CARPENTERSVILLE – Standing inside a robotics classroom at Dundee-Crown High School on Wednesday, one Chinese official from the city of Shenzhen peppered District 300 officials with questions about the concept of electives.
Principal Lynn McCarthy and Assistant Superintendent Ben Churchill explained that elective courses, such as robotics, allow students to choose certain subjects they are interested in learning beyond core classes, such as English or math.
The official, one of 10 who traveled from their hometown of Shenzhen near Hong Kong, asked how the electives were evaluated and whether the government played a role in regulating it.
“Our education is not centralized here,” Churchill said, explaining that state officials typically set general parameters on curriculum for local school districts.
The exposure to electives was one of many surreal moments for the 10 Chinese officials, who toured the high school and the district’s Liberty Elementary School to catch a glimpse of the public education system.
They were forbidden by the Communist government in China from expressing their opinions about the tour to reporters in attendance.
The officials all work at the local level for Shenzhen, a densely populated city of 15 million in southern China.
They have spent the past two months in the Chicago area as part of a University of Chicago program that allows them to see firsthand how local governments operate in the United States.
The university asked Carpentersville officials to host the delegates this week. City officials earlier showed them the Fox Valley Library District, Sherman Hospital and even the city’s wastewater treatment plant, said Joe Wade, Carpentersville’s assistant village manager.
“We’ve seen stuff that would bore other people to tears, but it’s always fun when people are enthused about what you do,” Wade said.
The enthusiasm was on display inside Dundee-Crown, as the Chinese officials took pictures from their smartphones and even stopped to sit with students eating lunch at the cafeteria.
They saw the school gym, witnessed a biology class and band practice, and saw English, math and food classrooms. They had ample questions, ranging from whether students had to wear school uniforms to the number of Advanced Placement courses offered at the district.
District officials such as Chuck Bumbales, Kristin Corriveau and Allison Strupeck all helped answer questions.
Churchill said the officials asked him whether students receive an extended school day break, since students in China break for two hours in the afternoon before going back to class.
“Some of their questions are interesting about the length of our school day, what sort of emphasis we have on math and science,” said Churchill, who taught in China for six years. “It’s interesting through their questions to hear what’s important to them.”
By the end of the tour, McCarthy wanted time to ask the officials about the Chinese education system.
“I wish we had more time,” she said. “It would have been interesting to find out a little bit more.”