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The Sister School Initiative

As Suzanne Fox stood before a delegation of dozens of Chinese and New England educators in the McKernan Center on the wintery afternoon in January, she borrowed a line from one of the wisest minds in Chinese history: “A journey of a ten thousand miles begins with a single step.”

It was a nod to the philosopher and sage Laozi and the first step in building meaningful new connections across the globe in a new program known as The New England-Zhejiang Sister School Initiative. This event saw 12 Chinese principals and government officials from Jinhua, a city of five million people in Zhejiang Province, to travel to Maine to meet with their New England counterparts. The task? Forge bonds and sister-school relationships.

The day had begun two hours earlier as the Chinese educators traveled from Boston to Maine, stopping off for a tour of Kennebunk High School. Then came the main event at the McKernan Center, an historic house overlooking glistening Casco Bay. They were welcomed by South Portland Mayor, Tom Blake and President of Southern Maine Community College, Ron Cantor—as well as educators from nearly a dozen New England schools.  The New England participants included a group of principals from elementary, middle and high schools from an array of private, public and charter schools. The Maine group included Van Buren and Millinocket in the North and Brunswick, Yarmouth and Baxter Academy in the Portland area. Also attending were schools from Connecticut and Vermont.  

After the welcome speeches, each school was matched with its sister school partner at tables overlooking the stunning views of Casco Bay, and with translators at hand, they launched deep into earnest conversations. “This was an opportunity for them to learn about one another,” explained Suzanne Fox. “This is what the whole day was about, laying the foundations of what we hope will be the beginning of long-term relationships.”

The event closed with a formal signing ceremony as school heads were called up to exchange gifts and sign their relationships into reality. It was a day of new beginnings, of setting out on a very 21-st century journey for New England schools—to create cross-cultural connections with partners in China and open pathways for new forms of student exchange. From here, many Chinese students will travel to New England this summer for short-term summer programs in the blissfully clean air.  Students in the US will also get to travel to one of China’s most interesting and historic provinces.