Expanding the Chinese language program
Aliris Tang, a 15-year-old at West Linn High School, single-handedly started a book exchange with the West Linn-Wilsonville School District's sister school, No. 26 Middle School in Xian, China.
"A part of learning (about) a language and culture is immersing yourself in that culture," Tang said. "The kids didn't have a lot of materials to go deeper into Chinese culture and Chinese language so that was a problem I saw." And one she set out to fix.
The WL-WV School District has a strong Mandarin Chinese language and culture program that has been implemented in three primary schools, all four middle schools and at both West Linn and Wilsonville high schools.
"We have a way for students to experience language and culture from a part of the world we don't have as much authentic day-to-day access to," said Barb Soisson, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.
She added that by having a sister school in China, teachers from both countries are able to participate in an education exchange to strengthen the language programs.
This is partly how Tang's idea to do a book exchange started.
As an eighth-grader at Athey Creek Middle School, her former teacher, Dawna Bell, went on a trip to China with other educators in March 2015.
"I made strong connections with both students and teachers at Xi'an No. 26 Middle School — grades 7-12," Bell said, adding that Tang was part of a group of students who connected with students from the sister school through social media.
It was because of Tang's passion about learning from these kids and connecting with them through social media — and her love for reading and the library — that she figured it would be beneficial to dedicate an exhibit at the Wilsonville Public Library to Chinese language and culture.
"We were learning from each other and I was like, 'Oh, it would be so cool if we could both have some more of (each other's) culture surrounding us,'" said Tang, who has been volunteering at Wilsonville Public Library since third grade. "I had a good connection with the library just because I'm there every summer helping with the summer program. I usually help with youth service, whatever they need me to do. In third grade I spent a lot of time reading, a lot of time in the library. I love it."
Tang lived in China for two years when she was a child, and still has family who live there.
She also said that coming from a Chinese background might have allowed her to able to connect with the students at No. 26 Middle School more because they already had something in common.
"I really like traveling. I love learning about culture," Tang said. "I've also gone to Mexico to volunteer with orphanages and that definitely played into my role."
When Bell visited Xi'an in March 2017, the students and teacher put together a collection of books for her to bring back for the future exhibit at the library.
"I've also done the same, so I've collected some books, library books that they don't need anymore and just books in general and then I've collected some (of my own) and sent them over to them," Tang said. "So this is the beginning of our foreign-language collection."
Tang and her family shipped the books over to China, paying the costs out-of-pocket. She sees the lack of sustainability with this situation so she would eventually like to fundraise to help with shipping fees.
Tang plans to have the exhibit up and running by the end of October. There will be a table set out in the library with two posters explaining the sister library concept, with information about No. 26 Middle School. There will also be donation boxes at the exhibit, and if the book exchange gets big enough, Tang plans to to reach out to the library in West Linn to see if they would like to participate in the book exchange.
The books she has already received vary in level and some even come in both English and Chinese.
"It really opens up your world when you can learn from different people who have vastly different experiences from you," Tang said. "To me, that's a really cool experience I think everyone should have."