About The Dandelion Project

The Dandelion Project is a service learning trip that was started by Margie Harvey in 2005, after travelling to China with Primary Source. She created this program to begin a cultural exchange between the students of Winchester High School located in Winchester, MA and the Dandelion School located in the fourth ring of Beijing, China. The Dandelion School addresses the need in China for education for the children of migrant workers. Due to the Household Registration Policy of the Chinese Government, these children do not have access to free public education. Winchester High School students prepare English language lessons and teach at the Dandelion School for one week, while experiencing Chinese culture and making friends with the Dandelion students. Winchester students also travel to many of the historical attractions in Beijing. This year we will also travel to Shanghai.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Final Updates from the Winchester Team

From Margie Harvey:
We had a conversation with Hong Zheng, the director of the Dandelion School, yesterday and she was gracious and welcoming, as she is each time we visit. She wanted to know if our accommodations were okay and how everything was going. We brought her some rubrics for work done by our students in the middle school and high school in Winchester. We also brought her some examples of alternative assessments from Social Studies units and English units. She was very appreciative and told us she would translate and share our materials with her teachers over the summer. We are very excited about hosting a Dandelion teacher in Winchester next January when they travel to America for the first time on a teacher exchange from the Dandelion to 4 school districts in Massachusetts. Cindy, the master teacher of 7th grade English classes at the Dandelion School, will be working with teachers in Winchester which is particularly exciting because Winchester High School is introducing Mandarin in the fall and it will be great to have a native speaking visitor with us in January to reciprocate our experience at the Dandelion School during the summer. It is a wonderful opportunity for Winchester students and teachers, as well.

From Tim DeRedon:
In my opinion China was a fantastic experience that I will never forget. From visiting the great wall to the dandelion school to the summer palace I've acquired great memories and friends that will hopefully last. We have all had a wonderful time and have shared many laughs. I look forward to going home but will miss life in China.

From Michael Stern:
Over the weekend, we visited Shanghai. Normally the Dandelion trip goes to visit Xian but this year we decided to go to Shanghai because of the World Expo. The Expo was interesting, but it was extremely crowded and the day we went was rainy and gross. Besides that though, Shanghai is an amazing city. It is like a Chinese New York City. There are big sky scrapers and plenty of expensive stores. The contrast between Beijing and Shanghai and especially between Shanghai and the Dandelion School is incredible. Shanghai has more cars and less bicycles, more new and expensive cars. It also has more American and European expatriates. It is a great city and despite the poor weather it was a lot of fun.

From Alex Saich:
Hello everyone,
So this is our last night in China before most of us return back to the US. Although we're sad to be leaving, many of us are also relieved to finally return from such an isolated atmosphere. This is the first time that I've been able to use a computer in 4 days now, and it was a much more unbearable 4 days than I thought it would be. Being able to go on the internet whenever we want to is something that I have taken for granted a lot. Back in America, I would check my email and facebook every day several times, and so not being able to do that here was unsettling. It was especially weird to feel so disconnected from the outside world as well as everything that's going on back home. This just goes to show how much we rely on technology that we feel uncomfortable being away from it for more than several hours at a

Friday, June 25, 2010

Update from Michael Stern

So it's our last day at the Dandelion School and it has been an amazing week. Teaching English here can be a little bit difficult at times (especially when the kids are having trouble understanding), but it is also very fun and rewarding. Some students aren't very strong in English and are shy in class, and some are very good and eager to participate in class. Even some of the worst English speakers though, are the most eager and try the hardest. We have made many new friends and feel like we really know a bunch of the kids. They are all great kids and they all seem to enjoy having us here. It's a shame we have to leave so soon, and hopefully we can come back again whether it be next year, during college, or even after that. It would be really interesting to see what has changed and who is still here.

Home Visit - Update from Arianna and Maddy

Yesterday evening, all 8 of us from Winchester along with 5 or so teachers from the Dandelion School voyaged off the school campus to go and visit the home of one of the students in Class Six. Her name is Maria and she turned 15 yesterday. Getting to her home was quite the adventure. We were able to pick up about 4 cars which drove us to the street on which her family lives. The street in and of itself was a powerful image to behold. There were trucks and horse-drawn carts selling fresh fruit and vegetables. The dirt street was uneven and teeming with cyclists and cars driven by very fearless drivers, to put it lightly. There were also vendors up and down the sides of the road and people everywhere. People with babies, pregnant women, older men eating off of small rickety tables, each one staring at the "foreigners" with questioning eyes. To get to her home, Maria led us on a roundabout route down the street, through incredibly narrow alley ways and crowded courtyards and up the stairs of her apartment building. All passageways doubled as storage spaces, with items ranging from bricks to drying clothes to bicycles placed wherever room could be found. When we finally reached her third story apartment, we had attracted a parade of curious followers who trailed behind us recording the experience with cameras and camcorders. We finally followed her to a tiny balcony hallway on the outside of the building and into a tiny room. This tiny, probably 10X10, room was her family's entire living space. There were two bamboo beds along the side walls, which took up the majority of the space. There were also four or so tiny stools for supplemental sitting space. There were also large cardboard boxes stacked with clothes sitting against the wall on top of the beds. Along the wall next to the door was a small counter housing a tiny television and a few meager cooking supplies. We all struggled to fit in the space, as they sought tirelessly to make us comfortable. Herding us in with wide smiles and welcoming hands, we sat on the bed next to the one fan cooling the stagnant and oppressive air. We gave them a watermelon in gratitude and then proceeded to struggle greatly in the effort to prevent them from cutting it and serving it to us right then and there. While we were settling in, Maria's mother left and purchased a drink for each of us. Each one cost about 3 Yuan, thus the cost of supplying all of us with drinks was probably about 50 Yuan. With a monthly rent rate of 280 Yuan, this was quite an expenditure for them. We were all literally speechless by this act of hospitality, and though we felt incredibly guilty doing so, we all accepted the drinks in fear of offending our kind hosts. We then all piled into the room and took pictures. Though it seemed natural after so much touring to want to capture this experience with our cameras, we both felt a sense of embarrassment in turning their home into a tourist attraction. Then, with Maria at the lead, we left for the walk back to the school with a new found appreciation for the weight of the money in our pockets.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Teaching English and Making Friends: From Ariana Albanese & Maddy Mangan

Teaching these kids, though it may sound cliche, is literally one of the most worthwhile things either of us have done. It was a little difficult in the beginning to get comfortable communicating effectively and getting the messages of our lessons across. However, it is remarkable how quickly one becomes accustomed to their learning strengths and weaknesses and learns to adjust accordingly. In our first lesson, it was actually incredibly nerve racking to be in front of so many new faces. But after getting to know the students in class and at meals, we know that they are so welcoming and kind to us that we are finding it easier and easier to talk to them. For us specifically, we have made great strides in terms of fostering friendships with the students. Through shared meals and conversations, we have gotten to know two 16-year-old girls very well. They were so quick to show us great acts of kindness, whether it be giving us gifts (pencils, pictures, etc.) or just holding our hands. It was heartbreaking because they kept telling us to "not forget them". We tried our best to assure them that that would certainly not be an issue. I don't think either of us are capable of forgetting such genuine kindness.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Life at the Dandelion School: From Winchester HS Student Yanrong Wo

We arrived at the school last night and were greeted by a small crowd at our bus. It was hard to see much and we were quite tired. We were bustled around and given a brief overview before we were left to sleep. My expectations of the school were mixed, because we had been told by our teachers that the school was shabby while my parents had told me that the school was probably in good condition. With a better view this morning, I saw that the walls of the school had all been cheerfully painted with pictures and maps. These had been painted by the students and much better than I could ever draw. In the room that I shared with the other kids from Winchester, it was cool and we given a fan. The bunk beds are a metal frame with a piece of wood on top and a mat. The beds are hard, but they are still comfortable since it keeps us pretty cool making it suitable for the hot weather. The walls and floor aren't very clean, and the stairs around the school are rusty, but it's not an uncomfortable place. There are fans in all the classrooms to keep the temperature relatively cool. I believe that this week will be an interesting time with the kids, and I personally look forward to learning more about the students and spending time with them.
The students, so far, have been very cheerful and greet us in the halls. The teachers have tried to make us as comfortable as possible. However, so far, we have had limited interactions with some of the students. We have taught a few classes and watched the students interact with the students, but we still do not have any kids rooming with us. When we go off to wash and shower, we normally wait till the kids are in class. Even so, we've spent some time playing basketball in the afternoons with the kids which was an fun even though it was hot. Hopefully we will be getting a few students to room with today!

Food in China: From Winchester HS Student Catherine Zuo

Throughout our adventures in Beijing and the Dandelion School, we've been exposed to many dishes and eating habits different from those of the United States. The restaurant food is served on a lazy susan that everyone at the table spins to access. At each of our restaurant meals so far, we've had a banquet--at least ten dishes per meal. Common foods include rice, bok choy or cabbage, spicy chicken, and watermelon at the end of each meal. We've had plenty of variety through our trip, although the style of cooking is similar at every restaurant. One of our notable dinners starred Peking duck, Beijing's famous dish, which was delicious. One of the notable absences at our meals are fortune cookies, an American invention.

In the Dandelion school, we have had more humble but still tasty meals--bread and jam, chicken and rice, or tofu and celery. Upon arriving at the school, we received our own personal tin bowls and spoons that we bring with us to mealtime. Bringing our own dishes with us lends a feeling of home cooking with every meal.

Overall, the food in China has been great. We are looking forward to eating more in the second half of the trip.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Updates from Winchester Students: Tim DeRedon

We have been in China for about 3 days and from what I can see it's pretty crazy. The traffic and drivers here are much worse than those in New York. If you hit someone you don't really get in trouble and everyone loves using their horn. The rules of the road are much different and you can pull U-turns on the highway and go the wrong direction on the roads. Overall, it's been interesting to see the differences between China and America and I look forward to the rest of the trip!