St. Bede, school in China, to share students, curriculum

By: By Tom Dermody

PERU — Zhengzhou, China and LaSalle County, Illinois are worlds apart in terms of geography, population, and culture.

But under a new agreement, the bustling Chinese megacity and the rural Illinois Valley now have two priceless aspects in common: the curriculum of St. Bede Academy and a handful of students from both locations.

St. Bede has established a sister-school relationship with Kinglee High School in Zhengzhou, the capital and largest city of Henan Province in north central China. The agreement, signed April 3 at St. Bede, broadens a relationship begun a year ago that brought six Kinglee students to St. Bede’s international boarding program this school year.

Beginning next year, St. Bede students will have an opportunity to study in China as well. Even more remarkably, that Chinese school will integrate the entire St. Bede curriculum, including religion classes.

Further, the exchange is not limited to students but may include faculty and administration.

Dr. Ted Struck, superintendent of St. Bede Academy who has been instrumental in crafting the arrangement — including overseeing the hiring of American teachers to teach in China — said the “cross-cultural experience for both schools will bring students together from across the world.”

Present for the signing of the agreement at St. Bede was a delegation from China including Wei-Chi Lee, owner and president of Kinglee High School and the Taiwanese-funded Best Educational Organization.

“Our partnership with St. Bede Academy has provided our students with a unique experience to grow and mature, offering an excellent springboard for students wishing to study outside of China,” she said at the April 3 ceremonies.

Struck, meanwhile, cited two keys the arrangement offers St. Bede: 1) the school’s boarding houses, established in recent years, will be consistently filled with international students who speak fluent English, and 2) St. Bede students will have opportunities for new cultural experiences with “a seamless transition” because of the shared curriculum.

There has already been “a ton of student interest,” Struck told The Catholic Post. St. Bede students taking part will only need to pay regular tuition and transportation costs. Room and board is complimentary.

Struck and Abbot Philip Davey, OSB, visited Zhengzhou when the two schools first connected in early 2013. A business leader in Chicago introduced Wei-Chi Lee to St. Bede leadership, and the Kinglee High School owner determined that St. Bede was a “holy and safe place” to send some of her students.

The first year of the exchange has been “outstanding,” said Struck. Five of the six Chinese students who attended St. Bede this year as sophomores and juniors will return in 2014-2015. They will be joined by 15 more from Kinglee.

St. Bede established an international boarding program in 2010. A boarding facility for boys has 14 beds, while one for schools has 16 beds. There are currently students from Mexico, Brazil, South Korea and Russia also attending classes at St. Bede.

Struck acknowledged that St. Bede students who study in China — up to six are expected to go for the second semester next school year — will experience a different environment than offered at the Benedictine abbey.

“There are no monks walking around Kinglee,” he said. But while Catholic culture may not permeate the building as it does at St. Bede, religion classes will be taught by a newly hired teacher who has a master’s degree in theology.

Extracurricular activities are also different. All sports at Kinglee are intramural. At Kinglee students will be in class for an extra hour a day.
Peru has a population of 10,000. Zengzhou’s population is 10,000,000 — or as Struck explains it, “10 Chicagos all put together.”

Traffic? “Chaos isn’t a strong enough word,” he said.

But the cultural experiences offered through the new agreement are a rare opportunity, said Struck. While attending Kinglee, St. Bede exchange students will stay with boarders during the week and host families on the weekend.

Also present in Peru for the signing of the agreement were Wei-Chi Lee’s husband and daughter as well as Eileen Wang, director of international affairs, and Dr. Jen-Hao Walter Hsu, director of the international department.

St. Bede has offered Mandarin Chinese as a foreign language to students since 2010.


Caption for photo above:

Students from Kinglee High School in Zhengzhou, China, who are attending St. Bede Academy in Peru this year are shown with officials from both schools. (Only first names of the minors are given). Seated, from left, are Yao-Bing Wang, general manager of Best Educational Organization (BEO), which operates Kinglee; Michelle Mershon, principal of St. Bede Academy; Dr. Ted Struck, superintendent of St. Bede; and Wei-Chi Lee, owner of BEO; standing, from left, are Lucy; Dr. Walter Hsu, director of BEO’s international department; Harry; Emily; Allny; Joey; Eileen Wang, BEO direction of international affairs; and Grace. Provided photo

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