Not your ordinary field trip | January 24, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 24, 2014

Not your ordinary field trip

Seventy Beijing elementary students visit Palo Alto's Ohlone Elementary School

by Chris Kenrick

With paisley backpacks, Adidas sweats and baseball caps, many of the 9- and 10-year-old children visiting from China were indistinguishable from their American hosts at Ohlone Elementary School Wednesday morning — though a few of the visitors wore uniforms of orange jackets and blue caps.

The 70 visiting students — from two Beijing primary schools as well as a group called Young Cultural Ambassadors — spent the morning singing and talking with their U.S. counterparts, visiting classrooms and petting the sheep and goats in Ohlone's farm.

"I think America is very beautiful," said 9-year-old Yiwen Zhou, who is visiting the United States for the first time. "And I can learn more English."

Her 10-year-old friend Qiyue Wang said she had traveled in 2012 to Canada and last year to England.

Such is elementary education — at least for some lucky children — in the age of globalization.

The students are on a month-long winter break, slated to return to school in mid-February for a term that runs to July.

Earlier on the trip, they'd visited Disneyland and Universal Studios, Yiwen said.

Later they were headed to San Jose State University and to the "company store" at Apple's corporate headquarters, which sells Apple-logo T-shirts, caps and accessories.

Google was to be Thursday's destination where, through some connections, the visiting students expected to actually get inside the buildings to see employees at work. Traveling in two buses, the visitors are based in a hotel in Concord.

Ohlone parent Keyi Chang, a Bay Area Chinese-language TV personality, helped to arrange the visit after being contacted by a group called the American-Chinese Environmental Protection Information Exchange Association.

"They were referred to me and asked me to find a school," Chang said. "Because of the Ohlone farm, I thought it would be good for environmental awareness and, also, if they don't speak that good English maybe they could still communicate because some kids at Ohlone know how to speak Mandarin."

Indeed, six of Ohlone's 28 classrooms are Mandarin Immersion classes, designed to develop full bilingualism for native speakers of each language.

To greet the visiting Chinese students, Ohlone second- and third-graders read a story in Mandarin about a tiger and a rabbit under the direction of their teacher, Lu Sun.

A second group of Ohlone students sang — in English — "This Land is Your Land" and "Make New Friends," inviting the visitors to join in.

Visiting students offered a performance on a ceramic flute, renditions of Chinese songs and one solo performance of a song — in English — titled "Price Tag," with a refrain of "money, money, money."

Students divided into groups to visit classrooms — 11 Ohlone teachers volunteered to host — for discussions about recycling and the environment.

China has more than 220 million children under age 14, an adult leader of the visiting group said in an opening ceremony. "They are eager to communicate as well as to understand each other."

Palo Alto Superintendent Kevin Skelly told the crowd, assembled under Ohlone's flagpole with the school's Chinese dragon nearby: "It's so important as you grow up that you keep these connections and that understanding and friendship as you become adults and become responsible for the relationship between our two countries."

A local Chinese educator who helped to organize the exchange said many of the visiting students are the children of Chinese government officials and frequently travel abroad. Ohlone Principal Bill Overton said student trips to China had been discussed in the six-year history of the Mandarin Immersion Program, but never undertaken. Because of state rules barring parent financing of school-sponsored trips, any such trip would have to be organized by parents and done during vacation time, he said.


A video of the Chinese students' visit to Ohlone Elementary School has been posted on

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at On the cover: Ohlone Elementary School student Charlotte Palmer, right, greets visiting students from Beijing Yucai elementary school in China, as they arrive on Jan. 22. Photo by Veronica Weber.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 24, 2014 at 8:22 pm

There is no reason that class-to-class and student-to-student communications can not made via Skype. At the moment, the Chinese Communist government does not allow its citizens to use Youtube, there are Chinese equivalents where both Chinese and American students could upload videos that would allow each group to exchange ideas, and interact in a somewhat less "interactive" way as they would via Skype, but the recordings would be more permanent.

Given the cost, and who knows what other issues that might pop up visiting China -- a better way to facilitate two-way, face-to-face, student-to-student communications would be via Skype, or some other video-sharing tools.

Will be interesting to see if the PAUSD can make that happen.

Posted by Just Wondering, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2014 at 1:08 pm

"A local Chinese educator who helped to organize the exchange said many of the visiting students are the children of Chinese government officials and frequently travel abroad."

Is part of the PRC's Ministry of Education department of the government(Hanban)?

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2014 at 2:37 pm

@Just Wondering - you are a wise person. I agree with you.
The naivete of some other persons is staggering. I worry for the future of our country. I worry about human rights abuses in certain other countries (anyone checked the news lately?)

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2014 at 8:55 am

Am I the only one who feels very suspicious about this?

These kids are not run of the mill regular Chinese school kids. Their parents are Government officials. I smell something fishy.

Posted by Huh?, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 27, 2014 at 9:05 am

"I smell something fishy."

Why? Is it surprising that the children participating in such an expensive and involved trip would be wealthy and well connected?

Posted by New in town, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 27, 2014 at 11:27 am

Did anyone else get a chuckle out of reading a visiting student from this "environmental group'" sang a song titled "Price Tag," with a refrain of "money, money, money." ?

Posted by lol, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 27, 2014 at 12:06 pm

I thought it was funny that they sang "This Land is Your Land".

Posted by Equivalent, a resident of Walter Hays School
on Jan 27, 2014 at 1:42 pm

[Post removed.]

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