It's been difficult to write these past few weeks. It would be unfair to paint a perfect picture of the past six weeks. And at a later date, I'll give details about the not-for-profit (?) organization that solicited Xiaoxuan's school in Wuhan with the offer of this "cultural exchange program."
Although vague high school grades were presented to us, there were red flags of concern for me and the high school here in New Orleans that accepted her on very short notice. For example, three years of letter grades for various subjects: Art A Art A Art A, Math A Math A, Math A.
"What kinds of Art? What kinds of Math?," we asked. Incredulously, the organization's local "support" insisted that when she arrived at school the first day, she could be shown books and asked, "Do you know how to do this?" and that would determine her class placement! There was no concern for or understanding of the fact that the school had other students and the first day of classes are not the time to decide a schedule!
She'd already missed two required Orientation sessions and arrived in New Orleans less than two days before the first day of school.
After a week and a half of asking, I was finally given an e-mail address for her parents and after a virtual across-the-world introduction and a couple of extremely pleasant e-mail exchanges, her mother sent jpegs of some of Xiaoxuan's art work from school.
The work was so lovely! The school's visual arts department waived both the interview process and required portfolio and she was placed in the Certificate of Artistry honors program for visual arts.
The other class level placements were not so successful.
Because we were provided with five years of grades for English (all A's), we were not at all prepared for the extremely low level of language and comprehension skills. Xiaoxuan admitted to learning English (mostly) from Chinese teachers - "Chinglish" she'd say with a shy smile.
The host organization's "support" contacts for us seemed to be programmed and prepared only to pacify my concerns. They were very nice and well-meaning people, but even when I tried to make contact with the main US office, I was "bumped" back down to the regional support and I always felt that if we were sitting face to face, my hand would be patted as my concerns were dismissed with a condescending, "There, there."
When the school eventually placed Xiaoxuan in the English Second Language (ESL) program, the organization responded with, "We don't allow that." And I was reminded that the student & her family had agreed to the need for a C+ average to stay in the exchange program.
Well, ESL, if needed, is a Louisiana state law!!
A meeting was called by the high school principal last week to discuss "what to do" about the overall situation.
John and I had already added scheduled after-school private tutoring (her parents must pay for this), the still fractured* Orleans Parish school system provided free online Rosetta Stone lessons in addition to the ESL support, the principal of the Chinese Cultural Academy at Tulane University offered (free) English Conversation classes that are provided by a volunteer Tulane graduate student and a friend donated an old laptop so Xiaoxuan could put aside the one she arrived with - it's in Chinese. John had tried to convert Xiaoxuan's laptop to English but couldn't decipher the characters to accomplish that and Xiaoxuan's Skype conversation with a relative in China said it would be very expensive and require software that would take too long to arrive...or at least, that's how the message translated to us!
The end result of the school meeting was that the teachers who attended, along with the school social worker, the ESL teacher, the assistant principal and the principal agreed with John and me that Xiaoxuan should remain in the school, with accommodations and perhaps a Pass/Fail consideration. We all were determined that her stay here in New Orleans should be as culturally rewarding an education as possible.
The most-local representative for the organization was unable to present an argument for that decision, unable to describe the threatened "Academic Probation" warning and whether or not she spoke with any "authority", she decided that the "required" C+ average in this case was more of a "goal" than a "requirement."
Xiaoxuan continues to exhibit pure sweetness. Even though we spoke with her beforehand about the scheduled meeting for her we would attend at school and then told her the happy outcome, she seems blissfully unaware that anything else could have happened!
Besides, there are many happy and heart-warming stories to share...I smile a lot and hope readers will, too.
*Apologies for this, but we are still in post-Katrina recovery. We still speak of events as pre-Katrina and post-Katrina. And because so many other tragedies have occurred and are occurring all over the world, I don't mean to use the pre and post designations as anything but a timeline reference for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.