Dale Shepherd ’13, YingHua International School

Dale-ShepherdFor my Princeternship, I spent three days visiting Ying Hua International School, a Chinese immersion school for pre-school through second grade students. After this experience, I am now more certain than ever that I would like to one day establish something similar. Nevertheless, if my time at Ying Hua taught me that running such a school can be rewarding, it also revealed the many, many obstacles and challenges that come along with this kind of endeavor.

The school, located in Princeton, was only a short drive north on highway 27. When Erin (another Princetern) and I arrived, we were a little surprised to discover that the school is actually a church. In fact, many of the students were rehearsing in the sanctuary for Chinese New Year activities as we entered. We were greeted by our host, Kristin Epstein ‘97. Kristin was formerly an engineer and currently works in marketing and development for Ying Hua. She gave us a tour of and a brief introduction to the school. Although the classrooms have other uses during church services, aside from a few signs outside each room, it was quite obvious that learning in Chinese was taking place inside them, as you may notice from some of the pictures. Kristin explained that Ying Hua rents the building from the church during the week but will soon need a more permanent space as they expand to sixth grade.

For most of the first day, we chatted with Kristin about theShepherd 1 school’s history, funding, and other logistics. From our conversation, it became clear that managing a school at any stage requires a strong support system financially and professionally. Ying Hua is a private school, which means tuition comprises a large part of the operating budget. However, before a school exists, people have to buy into the idea and some capital has to be invested. Without the significant contributions made by donors, starting Ying Hua would have been impossible. We also talked to Natalie, the principal. She echoed the importance of personal and professional connections and told me about useful opportunities to learn more about education. Both Natalie and Kristin were involved in an unsuccessful attempt to establish Ying Hua as a charter school. It was unbelievable how much opposition they faced from local schools and government, which ultimately led to not acquiring a building and thus failing to obtain the charter. They each acknowledged how onerous their work is but did not seem to regret choosing it.

The second day we got to see the students a little more as they continued rehearsing for the new year performance. I was amazed at how well they spoke Chinese. Shepherd 4Bear in mind that more than half of the students do not have parents who speak Chinese at home. Furthermore, Kristin explained that they use an inquiry-based curriculum, and I could not help but feel a little envious that students not only learn in Chinese but have quite a bit of autonomy in choosing what they want to study. The teachers do all of this and still manage to cover the standards mandated for public schools as well. Although I personally, do not place extreme importance on the state curriculum, Kristin explained that some parents feel more comfortable knowing there is a higher authority of standards and that their children would be able to function in non-Chinese academic settings if they left the school. This is actually an interesting point because before first grade, the students are taught completely in Chinese, which means they might be unfamiliar with some important terms if they did leave the school before being taught in English.

On the last day, we went to Princeton Senior Resource Center to watch the students perform for Chinese New Year. The senior citizens, many of whom were Chinese, simply adored them. Even though I had seen the students rehearse, I was still quite impressed seeing a more complete form of the show. After the performance, Kristin invited Erin and me to the Nassau Club for lunch where we socialized with other alumni from various years, which really enhanced the experience.

The Princeternship turned out to be much more than I expected. I knew we would get to shadow an alum and observe a school, but I did not expect it to feel as natural as it did. Right from the beginning, Kristin and the Ying Hua staff made us feel as if we belonged there. I recommend this Princeternship to anyone interested in the operations of education. It gave me more perspective about my career goals and life after Princeton.

Erin Kim ’15, YingHua International School

Erin-KimI am passionate about education in East Asia (especially Korea and China) and want to help change it by redefining the true meaning of education, shifting the emphasis on college admissions and test scores to the importance of nurturing basic human values. A potential way I’m considering to actualize this dream is to establish a school in Korea that does things differently from the traditional Korean schools. Although I have had experiencing teaching and mentoring, I had no idea what went into running a school. So I applied to the Princeternship at YingHua International School, a not-for-profit, independent school in Princeton that offers a Chinese-English dual language education for pre-school through elementary grades.

Dale and I were generously hosted by Kristin Epstein ’97, the Director of Development at YingHua. Most of our days were spent talking to Kristin and Natalie, the Director of the school and asking them questions. They gave us insight and shared about certain challenges of running, fundraising and recruiting teachers for a small, private school like YingHua. We also had great conversations about education in the U.S. and China.

It was helpful to see the tangible actions taken in order to support and expand the school. In order to raise money, Bonnie (the founder of YingHua) builds personal connections with private donors and Kristin needs to constantly search and apply for grants from governments, corporations and foundations. While we were there, Kristin was applying for grants for the school’s music and physical science programs so we were able to help her brainstorm materials that would benefit the students. Kristen also showed us specific ways she marketed the school, such as purchasing Internet banner advertisements, improving the website and mailing pamphlets.

We also received a tour of the classrooms, Kim 1which looked like my elementary school classrooms except that everything was in Chinese rather than in English. I was most struck by how fluently and effortlessly all of the children spoke Mandarin despite the fact that many of them do not come from Chinese-speaking families or Chinese backgrounds. It was amazing to see 4- to 7-year-olds conversing in Mandarin like native speakers. I also loved how YingHua emphasizes an inquiry-based curriculum and exploration of the arts, rather than simply educating students in a set of isolated subject areas.

Before this Princeternship, I felt like I only had vague ideas and ideals to work with when I looked to my future plans. Through my time at YingHua, I was able Kim 3to actually see concrete actions that must be taken in order to manage an experimental school. The experience has given me a clearer sense of which classes, opportunities and internships I should look into. It also confirmed my impression that the path to my dream will not be a straightforward and easy one. However, seeing the lively and enthusiastic students who are clearly benefitting from the incredible mission of YingHua confirmed my commitment to continue down this path. I am extremely thankful to Kristin for providing such an invaluable and crucial experience that has given me both direction and motivation to move forward.