In February, a delegation 31 students and ten educators from Liaocheng, China, representing sister schools through the Newtown International Center for Education (NICE), visited Newtown High School, Newtown Middle School, and Reed Intermediate School. Members of the delegation stayed with host families during the visit. The delegates also visited local sites, including Yale University in New Haven and New York City.
Part of the delegation’s visit was spent readying a delegation of Newtown students and educators who will travel to China in April.
This year also marked the fifth year of the Newtown-Liaocheng sister school relationship, according to NICE program coordinator and NHS Assitant Principal Jason Hiruo.
“I actually think that this was the most successful visit so far,” said Mr Hiruo, noting that the visit was both a celebration of an anniversary and the visits from Lioacheng delegates have become structured over the years. The NICE Parent Community Organization (NICE PCO) is more involved in the visits now, said Mr Hiruo.
A number of host families volunteered space in their home for the guests, said Mr Hiruo.
Every year, he said, he measures the success of the NICE program by how many tears there are at the airport for the final farewell moment.
“This year,” he said, “there wasn’t a dry eye. It was very heartfelt.”
The host families, Mr Hiruo said, reported having a great time. On the weekends, evenings, and afternoons host families had the choice to show the delegates different aspects of American culture. Some played laser tag, some went sledding, one went to a museum, and some went horse back riding, Mr Hiruo said.
Judy Dubois said her family hosted a visiting 16-year-old student, and it was the first time their home was opened up for a delegate. Mrs Dubois said, “It was awesome. We had such a great time.”
Mrs Dubois said her family went sledding at Treadwell part of one day and the visiting student loved it.
“She had never been sledding before,” said Mrs Dubois.
With four outgoing children between the ages of 12 and 17, Mrs Dubois said she was nervous to participate as a host family, but she said that ended up helping. She sent her visitor with her children to participate in things like volunteering at the Sandy Hook Arts Center for Kids (SHACK), skating at the Danbury Ice Arena, and helping to paint sets at Newtown Middle School for its upcoming production of The Wizard of Oz.
Mrs Dubois said she absolutely intends to participate again.
“By the end she was crying, we were crying. It was so sad to see her go back,” said Mrs Dubois, “but it was a really great experience. Everyone had a really great time.”
Resident Katie Kent said her family has been a host family for visiting delegates for five years.
“Every year there is something different that enhances it,” said Ms Kent.
The first year of the Newtown and Liaocheng sister school relationship, Ms Kent reflected, ten students and four educators visited Newtown. It was an intimate group, but despite the larger number of visitors each consecutive year, she said that feeling is still the same.
“It’s a great experience,” Ms Kent said, said the students bond as a collective group. “I’m thrilled that I still get to participate in it, five years later.”
Jackie DeFlumeri said she never thought her household would participate as a host family, but now that she has, she thinks it is a fantastic program.
“They make it so easy for you,” said Mrs DeFlumeri, about NICE and the NICE PCO.
Her NHS sophomore daughter Emma became fast friends with the student who stayed with them.
Ms DeFlumeri said her daughter “really got a lot out of the experience.”
One night during the stay, the DeFlumeris hosted a sleepover, as one of Emma’s friends also happened to be in a host family.
“She was just so cute and funny,” said Emma, who taught her visitor guitar. “It was just like she was family.”
Emma said she was extremely nervous before meeting the girl who would become a fast friend, but, “when she got here she was pretty much fluent in English.”
Like Ms Kent, Mrs Dubois, and her mother, Emma said she cried when it came time to say goodbye. Emma said she does not know when she will get to see her new friend again, but they still try to talk, despite the time difference.