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An Attitude We Can All Learn From

Last June, while visiting family in China, I had the opportunity to visit a Chinese school where my aunt works

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"I stationed myself in the back of 15th homeroom at Chifeng #4 Senior Middle School." Photo by Kevin Zhang

"I stationed myself in the back of 15th homeroom at Chifeng #4 Senior Middle School." Photo by Kevin Zhang

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When the bell rang, the talking and joking stopped immediately, replaced by a sense of urgency and focus. School had started.

For the students of Chifeng #4 Senior Middle School, located in a small city in Inner Mongolia, it was time to learn.

Forty-two students sat ready at their desks. Thick wads of schoolwork were piled on each student’s desk. Pencils and notebook paper placed at the ready.

I stationed myself in the back of 15th homeroom at Chifeng #4 Senior Middle School. In the Chinese school system, students are divided into homeroom classes at the beginning of high school. From there, they will take every subject with the same students, in the same room, with the same teachers for the rest of their high school careers.

As I sat and observed, I noticed that nearly all the students had already begun working. They were helping each other with homework and discussing the material from a recent lecture. Others were reviewing vocab for the upcoming English quiz. All this was happening without a teacher in the room.

This was a mandatory study hall, one of three they participate in every day, along with eight 45-minute classes, a two-hour lunch break and a fifty-minute exercise session. A day that lasted about twelve hours. A day that the students of the 15th homeroom class didn’t complain about.

The day started with English class. As the teacher walked in, the students stood up, greeted him and bowed. The students checked their homework, listened to a lecture and were given that night’s assignments  It was very straightforward, chalk on the blackboard, pen to paper. Everything centered around the learning.

The rest of the day consisted of similarly-styled classes. Through English, biology, chemistry, writing, physics, social studies, reading and then English again, the students were focused on their studies. It is a rigorous curriculum, filled with difficult content.

During the second English class, the teacher gave me time to interact with the students. One kid asked if I’ve ever seen Lebron James play in person, another asked if Nike apparel is cheap in America. The kids of the 15th class are not well-oiled, note-taking machines that live inside a textbook. Like us, they are curious, devoted students, filled with aspirations and dreams.

English is the favorite class for many of the students because it offers many opportunities.  They are excited to learn the material and aware of what Education can bring.

“English is the way to get out of this isolated town,” one student told me. “I want to go to a bigger city, maybe even one in the U.S.”

There is a recognition among all Chinese students that if you slack off, someone, somewhere is working harder, and that someone from somewhere could just score .5 points higher than you because of it.”

Unlike many of us in Beachwood, students in Chifeng have no family businesses to run if everything goes south, no trust-funds designated under their name, no connection that will land them a well-paying job. For the kids of the 15th homeroom class, there are books, notepads, a constant drive and little else to help them succeed.

And for these students, they will only have one chance to show off all the hard work. Their college application process does not consider GPA, extracurricular activities, or personal qualities. It consists of a single score that determines the fate of all the students in China.

It is the “National Higher Education Entrance Examination”, a nationwide exam that tests all the material taught during high school. With a max score of 750 and point intervals separated by .5 points, the college aspirations of students come down to slim margins. Receive a 660 instead of a 660.5, and the college of your dreams may be out of reach.

There is a recognition among all Chinese students that if you slack off, someone, somewhere is working harder, and that someone from somewhere could just score .5 points higher than you because of it.

Much like any other high school students, the students at Chifeng #4 Senior Middle School are under a tremendous amount of stress due to their classes, the long days and the daunting prospect of the college entrance exam.

However, the students of the 15th homeroom have learned to embrace the grind. They are proud of the fact that they are able to attend high school. They would much rather stress and toil than not receive an education at all.

They do not have the luxuries that BHS students have. No late starts, no shortened assembly schedules and no prom. No expanded science labs, no Chromebooks and no SmartBoards.

For the students of the 15th homeroom class at Chifeng #4 Senior Middle School, it is more important to focus on the things they have and not complain about the things they don’t.”

They do not have a student activities director to help them with aspiring projects, two helpful librarians that greet them with a smile, or three guidance counselors whose only goal is to help them with their futures. Yet there are always 42 prepared students in their seats at 7:10, ready to learn.

For the students of the 15th homeroom class at Chifeng #4 Senior Middle School, it is more important to focus on the things they have and not complain about the things they don’t.

An attitude we can all learn from.

The students do not care that there is constant stress or mountains of worksheets on their desk. The students at Chifeng #4 Senior Middle School will leave with a solid education and will have a chance to score high on the college entrance exam. That alone drives the students to go to class every morning. To take notepads full of notes and complete packets filled with questions. To take advantage of school and receive an education. To learn.

Click here to sign up to be a pen pal with the students of Chifeng #4 Senior Middle School.

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An Attitude We Can All Learn From