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Weston’s Sagemont Elementary School Hosts Cultural Art Exchange with Students from China

By Stacey Bomser (As reported in Our City of Weston Magazine)

The Sagemont School recently welcomed several special guests for a cultural art exchange. These students were not only from another school, but another country. Three elementary-age students and the director of the Ruopu Art School in Wuhan, China, took part in the program which included an art show and contest, classroom comparisons, and advanced art lessons.

Ruopu is a museum-like art school which allows children from ages three to 15 to explore their creative side. The school focuses on fine detail and expression through careful interpretation of traditional Chinese art.

“While ‘Folk Art’ is very important to the people of China, it is beginning to fade with fewer and fewer artists practicing the trade,” explains Beth McMahon, Sagemont’s Director of Admissions and International Programs, who coordinated the cultural exchange. “Training young students may help preserve the traditions.”

Mrs. McMahon says the purpose of the art exchange event was to provide students with a platform to break down language barriers and learn about one another through art. “Not only was the artwork spectacular, but Sagemont students from both the Upper and Lower School Campuses were able to learn about the children’s lives through their art, which was the subject matter of the paintings.”

Ninety-one pieces of artwork by the Chinese students were on display in the Sagemont Lower School Campus cafeteria for all to enjoy. Upper School AP and Honors art students served as judges, under the guidance of art teacher Darcy Hildlebidle. The students carefully selected three winning pieces; one from each age category: 5-6 years, 7-8 years, and 9-10 years and older.

“From this, the Sagemont students experienced how to look and value art, not by whether they liked it or not, but rather by breaking down the art into five categories via a rubric,” explains Mrs. McMahon. “They enjoyed discussing their perspective on the work to the Chinese instructors who were greatly impressed with the knowledge and interest that our students demonstrated.”

On the second day of the visit, the young Chinese students spent time with Sagemont second graders. The Sagemont students shared their American culture and education with the special guests by performing songs, giving them a tour of the school, and demonstrating and discussing what they learn in their classes, including art, music, physical education, media technology, Spanish and swimming.

“It was interesting that the three Sagemont teachers were able to include the young Chinese children in the classroom lessons simply by using computer programs and the internet on their white boards that translated the lesson for them,” shared Mrs. McMahon. “The Chinese students answered questions on the white board using Chinese characters.”

She cites an experience with Yibo, one of the Chinese students, during a math lesson on temperature. “Since he did not speak English at all, and was very shy, we looked up how to say numbers in Chinese and our students repeated the numbers in his language while the teacher pointed to the board. Then Yibo pronounced the words for us to repeat after him.”

Fortunately, there were no language barriers in PE or on the playground. Mrs. McMahon says the Chinese students told her recess was their favorite time of day, as they enjoyed playing freely with their new friends. “Sagemont showed the Chinese that in America, students are fortunate to have the arts and athletics as part of the curricular day. Studying is important, but being able to express themselves with music, art and fitness all in one day was pretty impressive.”

Sagemont second grader Paula Pulgar said she liked spending time with Yibo. The two shared a common love of art. “I would like to go to an art school like his because I would learn more about art. I want to be a fashion designer and you need to know art for that as well.”

The culture exchange between the two schools also included art lessons. Sagemont art instructors Darcy Hildebidle and Scott Hemeon gave a class to the young students and the Ruopu Art School’s director taught the Sagemont students about art education in China.

After the culture exchange, a few of the pieces of artwork, including the winning pieces in each age category, were moved to the Young At Art Museum in Davie. Mrs. McMahon says plans are already in the works for future exhibitions to rotate between the two communities, along with teachers actually exchanging art instruction. She says the first lesson may be exchanged over the internet, with travel between the schools likely to happen.

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