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Lessons in language and a lot more

Rosemount Middle School principal Mary Thompson talked about changes when she returned from China earlier this month. Some of those changes are likely to go over better than others.

Expanded Chinese language classes at the school? Sure, why not? But a schedule that matches the 7:30 a.m. to nearly 10 p.m. schedule of their Chinese counterparts? Students didn't seem to think it was funny when Thompson joked about that.

Thompson traveled to China Dec. 2-8 as part of a program sponsored by Hanban and the Confucius Institute. Those groups paid for educators from around the world to visit China and meet with educators there. RMS started offering Mandarin Chinese classes this year in sixth grade and Thompson hopes to expand the program to seventh grade next year.

During her visit Thompson attended the Beijing Ballet, toured the great wall and went to Tienanmen Square. She also spent time in the province of Chong Qing in western China, visiting schools and meeting with other educators. She tried to set up a sister school relationship with a school there.

Thompson's grandfather spent time in Chong Qing in 1942 when the United States helped China invade Japan.

"I would say it was a life changing experience, not only to experience a different culture and meet people who were kind and warm. I got to spend all this time with other educators," Thompson said. "We'd go from 7:30 in the morning until 11 at night, but still, when you're on the bus you're talking education."

Thompson visited Chong Qing Middle School No. 1. The school of 5,000 students has dorms for students and no heat in the classrooms. Classes run more than 12 hours a day.

"It's just crazy," Thompson said.

RMS Chinese students helped Thompson learn some basic phrases before she left.

Thompson said she returned from China with a new appreciation for the country's culture and with a commitment to continue Mandarin classes at RMS.

"Even more than that is to appreciate students and parents from all cultures, and how that makes us what we are here in the United States. And to get to know and understand other people's beliefs and not to try to assimilate other people into our U.S. culture," Thompson said. "You are where you are from. Be proud of that."

Diamond Path Elementary School, an international studies magnet school, has offered Chinese classes for several years and there has been talk of eventually adding the program at Rosemount High School.