The Princeternship experience proved to me that life after Princeton really is unpredictable. My host, Kristin Epstein ’97, studied environmental engineering as an undergraduate, worked in the field for ten years, then ended up co-directing a Chinese immersion school just down the road. I went into the experience hoping to discover whether school administration would be something I would be interested in pursuing. After shadowing Mrs. Epstein for two days, I got a chance to not only learn about what administration entails, but also what the policies and curriculums are like in private schools. I was in the public school system for all my life, so I have always been used to and perhaps took for granted the standardization of procedures and curriculums across my county school system in Maryland. I learned that private schools, like Yinghua, can use their own discretion in what they do during the academic year as long as they meet the core state curriculum. I never knew how little oversight there is over private schools! As I toured the school and watched little children of all ethnicities engaging with one another in Chinese, I grew more and more amazed at the success of their language immersion program. All of the core classes were taught in Chinese and all I could think about was how little I could understand even after taking a semester of Chinese here at Princeton. Although the curriculum is less rigid than I am used to, their focus on making learning interesting and relevant to the students’ lives really inspired me. On top of the flexible system, the school community is also very tight knit. On the first day, we were able to sit in on a parent meeting for one of the grade levels and considering that the number of students in that grade level is small and that there were enough parents and administrators to fill the table, I thought that there was a pretty good turnout! All of the parents were actively engaged and wanted to help in the best way they could. One mother was particularly concerned about her child retaining Chinese once he leaves the school so she talked a lot about maintaining an English-free environment in the classroom and providing summer programs to keep the children actively learning and practicing Chinese. I found this particularly interesting because I always thought that most immigrant parents, including my own, would be concerned about their child learning and mastering the English language, especially here in the U.S. Although my parents didn’t force Chinese upon me, I wish they had and it was really heartwarming to learn about this parent’s concern because I too believe that retaining one’s heritage and roots especially through language is important.
The school also bases its curriculum on the IB curriculum at the elementary level. This is where most of the love for learning comes in. One fascinating project Ms. Epstein told us about was the Berlin Wall simulation during one of the history classes. Elementary school students, not yet ten years old, were already learning about some of the most important events that happened in our nation’s history. In this activity, the students were separated by a constructed wall and the students on one side of the wall were loud and celebratory while the students on the other experienced quite the opposite and could hear the excitement on the other side. Though a simplified explanation of the Berlin Wall, this exercise was one of many projects that the school incorporates in its curriculum to encourage students to enjoy learning. This Princeternship was an eye-opening experience into education in the private school system as well as education administration. I would like to thank Ms. Epstein and the staff at Yinghua for being so welcoming and supportive during my time at the school!