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Lester B.Pearson

Early supporter of Pearson College, former Prime Minister of Canada, and Nobel Peace Laureate

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Late Honorary President of UWC, Former President of South Africa

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Member of UWC National Committee of China, board member of UWC Changshu China

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Co-Founder, Vice Chairman of Board and Executive Director of Harvard Centre Shanghai. Pearson 89-91

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Chair of UWC International Board and International Council 

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Kurt Hahn

German Educator, Founder of United World Colleges

16 Year Old Helping Rural Students' Dream Come True

Issue date:2019-10-18

An online teacher, Bell Luo was often asked questions like: "Is Kentucky chicken tasty?" "Teacher, have you ever taken a train?" by his students. In rural areas, students have to imagine what the outside world is like. In the summer of 2018, Bell and his team made a decision. They took some students in the rural areas to Beijing and gave them the chance to see the city with their own eyes. He was a DP1 student at UWC Changshu China then. Because of this decision, 20 outstanding students left their small village and embarked on a trip to explore the world. They took part in debating, performed in comedies and read English novels. For the first time, they gave speeches on the street, visited Tsinghua University, and walked to Tiananmen Square to witness the rising of the national flag in dawn with excitement and pride. During those 7 days, Bell and his peers held a meeting every night to reflect on the day's teaching and confirm arrangements in detail for the next day. They worked till midnight and began the next day's work, reenergized early in the morning. In September, the 20 students from Yunnan Province Bell and his team taught online all got admitted to universities, with students admitted to top universities such as Jinan University and Hehai University. Bell felt so proud of himself for having been their teacher.

The story started four years ago

Bell met a group of 10th-grade students from the rural Fuyuan, Yunnan Province by chance. They experienced hardships in life because of their poor family financial background. Bell and his friends set up a small team to support the students one-on-one financially and exchanged messages with them occasionally. In 2017, Bell was admitted by UWC Changshu China, and he was very much relieved since he would not need to work as hard as his peers to prepare for the upcoming senior high school entrance examination. These high school students from Yunnan who entered their second year of high school were extremely curious about UWC. They told Bell that they wanted to know about UWC and to learn English well. Bell learned that, after nine years of endless exams, these students had surpassed more than half of their peers to be able to enter a top high school in their town. However, their English was much weaker than their schoolmates from the city due to the lack of teaching resources in their previous school. Even with their own tenacious efforts, and the financial support they received from others, the road ahead them was still very tough. They needed more help!
Bell was determined to offer his help. During his relatively free period of time before entering UWC, Bell sought to use his English learning experience to do more for those students. He and his friends contacted teachers at their school to discuss what they planned to do. With support from the School, they were allowed to use the computer room to start teaching online English classes, in order to prepare students for next year's Gaokao (national university entrance exam). They started to promote their project, to raise funds to buy textbooks and audio players for the students. As the school banned the use of electronic devices by students, they asked the school to make an exception and allow students who participated in the online classes to use the devices – an incredible first victory.
First online course in Yunnan, April 2017

Igniting dreams is not enough

In October 2017, Bell joined the school-organized Project Week. He went to Suichuan, Jiangxi with his peers.

After Project Week, he still thought about the Jiangxi students he taught. He kept in touch with the school and asked a teacher there how things were going. The teacher told him, "You came, telling our children about the outside world, that it is very exciting, inspiring their dreams. But when you left, everything went back to normal, the library that was open during your visit was locked again, and the endless homework assignments started resumed."

Bell suddenly felt that this was like loneliness after a carnival has ended. On-the-spot teaching ignited the dream in the mind of those students, but who will help them to pursue their dreams?

At UWC, no brilliant idea would just stay in the air. Bell's idea to help those students quickly got support from his peers, Mike Wu, Renée Wang, Mike Chen and later some others. They set up an online teaching program and named the team "Blue Sky", meaning to walk hand in hand under the blue sky.

At that time, Bell and his team were participating in the CTB (China Thinks Big) competition. They took the chance to recruite many high school students from Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou and overseas. The number of online teaching sites also expanded to four, namely: Yunnan, Jiangxi, Henan, and an Orphanage School in Beijing. The number of students increased to more than 200.

Drawing experience from others, they gradually developed teaching methods suitable for their own team. For example, using entertaining cartoons in class with voice over; using "New Concept English" textbooks to help improve scores and accumulate solid grammar knowledge, and introducing picture books to enhance their interest after class. 

They allocated two teachers for each class and have shifts set out: the instructor is responsible for the lecture, arranging the week's homework; the tutor listens to the students' online reading via a QQ group, then suggests improvements. Due to shifts, each pair averaged one class per month, a modest workload; so far, no one has left the team. This is impossible for face to face teaching, but online class brought the kids closer to their dreams.

Because they reviewed regularly after classes through doing homework, the students' English proficiency improved rapidly, excelling in their respective classes. Tutors marked students' homework with encouraging remarks, leading to much stronger interests in learning English. 


Seeing a bigger world

During the classes a year ago, students often asked questions such as "Teacher, have you ever been to KFC? Is the food there tasty?" Or, "Teacher, have you ever been on a train?" The team felt that for those kids, there was too little information about their surroundings. They had to use their imagination to learn about the world besides what was learned through TV and short videos. To address this issue, the team had a new idea--to bring them on a trip to see the city. They started to organize a non-profit summer camp in Beijing in 2018. They designed courses and activities from scratch, selected outstanding students from the online course, paid for their fees, and provided an opportunity for them to experience and tour the big city and expanded their horizon.

Running the summer camp also gave impetus to Bell's own growth. Bell thought the most difficult thing was raising funds, but it was solved with the donations by volunteers. Then he began to face the real difficulties---how to select campers? There were too many applications for the camp which can only accommodate 20. Who would be admitted? What kind of campers should they choose? What was the selection criteria? How should they design interview questions, and what kind of answers would match their standards? Of the few sites, how many should they admit for each site?

When discussing camper selection, they couldn't help but think of the UWC Selection Day they had experienced. Following the UWC values, they decided to admit students who celebrated difference, had compassion, could be ready for personal challenge and set personal examples. They discussed the interview questions and set the scholarship criteria. Finally, the recruitment of campers was completed within two months.

George Li, an alum from Class of 2017, who received scholarship from UWC Changshu China, participated the camp by sharing his story, motivating the children to work hard for their dreams; guest teachers taught the children communication skills and shared their overseas study experience; professional coaches led them in outdoor activities; With the guidance from Bell and his team, campers practiced debating, rehearsed plays, read English novels, wrote diaries, and delivered speeches.

The last two days' activities were held in Beijing. Campers traveled from east to west, crossing the entire city of Beijing, giving a speech on the street, experiencing city life. They slao visited Tsinghua University. On the first night, the campers couldn't sleep with excitement, until they finally settled at 1 a.m. After only one and a half hours, they got up and gathered, walked to Tiananmen Square to wait for the flag-raising ceremony.

It was a life changing experience for the campers and a tough but rewarding journey for the young teachers.

In September, the first 20 students from Yunnan Station were all admitted to universities, and some were even admitted to "211 Project" universities such as Jinan University in Guangzhou. Out of gratitude, those students alos wanted to give back, so they joined in and helped with the teaching. 

Fast-forwarding to summer 2019, Bell and his team hosted a summer camp again, this time on the edge of Taihu Lake. Young campers, wearing traditional Chinese costumes, sang the song "Nameless" which they learned one year ago during their online class. Their teachers were moved to tears.

From left to right, George Li, Mike Chen, Bell Luo and Mike Ng introducing UWC and its application process during 2018 Beijing Summer Camp

Growing up

For everyone, it's an experience to grow up and mature.

Organizing the summer camp for two years has also made Bell understand the true meaning of the word "Leader ".

He finally realized that leadership is different from service. His team's work has to be service-oriented, trying to bring the best to the students. However, within a team, the leader needs to listen to suggestions from others and make decisions. The leader should be capable of convincing and unite the team to make concerted efforts. As a leader, one must possess the courage to take responsibilities for all decisions made.

This is what Bell learned through the online teaching experience. He reflected:

"What is the purpose of education? I used to think that the meaning of online teaching is to help more students with limited resources to be able to enter universities, change their life through their own efforts. However, it comes to me now that education should be a process of cultivating and nurturing people. It's a process for young people to know how to love and care about others, how to distinguish between good and evil, and know what is right and wrong! No matter what kind of jobs these students will do in the future, the happiness they enjoyed reading together in their teens will always brighten up their future and be passed on to the people around them.

I did not meet everyone during my best time; because I met everyone, it became my best time.

I am grateful to every teacher in my team and every student who takes our online class.

I am grateful for this heartwarming experience.

I am grateful for my precious time at UWC as a young man."

In life, as the saying goes: The fragrance of the rose lingers on the hand that casts it.

 Story and photos provided by Bell Luo, DP2

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