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April 29, 2014

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Joint-venture school charts bold new path

A trip to Beijing in 1994 changed Brantley Turner’s life. The American became so interested in China that she just keeps coming back for one reason or another.

“I was never bored by China. China is a very interesting place regarding architecture, environment, history and even shopping. It has something for everyone,” said Turner, 38, now vice principal of the newly established Shanghai Qibao Dwight High School, which will open in September.

Turner is participating in one of the biggest education experiments in Shanghai. The school is the first ever Sino-foreign high school in the city. It is designed to meet the growing demand for high-quality education from both local and expatriate families.

If successful, the school will set an example for others who are interested in running similar joint ventures.

“Every country struggles to figure out what kind of education model is going to be the best for its people,” Turner said. “In terms of cooperatively running a school, I think doing things together has a lot of value.”

Turner said the opportunity to educate Chinese students is great for Dwight School. She thinks Chinese students are intelligent, work hard and their families care about education, which creates a very good foundation for learning.

The school, a collaboration between Shanghai Qibao High School and the Dwight School in New York, will have an inaugural class of 150 students, including 100 students from Shanghai and 50 from other parts of China and overseas.

The curriculum features a bilingual education combined with Chinese and Western teaching methods. Subjects like Chinese literature, politics, history, geography and mathematics will be done the Chinese way. Foreign languages, sciences and athletics will use Western methods.

After spending significant time in China over the past 20 years, she said Chinese people are still most comfortable staying back instead of being proactive in classrooms or in other occasions. “That’s not what we want our students to be. We want our students to have an open mind and think independently,” Turner said.

“By approaching this as a collaborative effort, we want students to understand the value of cooperation and be open to cooperation across cultures,” she said.

“Some people fear cooperation because they feel it creates too many obstacles. I think obstacles are not negative, but a challenge. If we want to do something different, we must break down each other’s framework first.”

Now, Turner is responsible for handling foreign teachers, bringing foreign ideas to the curriculum and coordinating the school’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. She is considered an important bridge between the Chinese and US teams as she speaks Mandarin and knows a lot about China.

Turner’s first visit to China was in 1994, when her mother took her to Beijing on a business trip. She became so interested in China that she decided to learn Mandarin and study Chinese history at Brown University.

In 1995, she returned to study Chinese at Beijing Language and Culture University. After graduating from Brown University in the US in 1998, she came back to China to work at the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies for one year.

“I think the language really motivated me because I can communicate with people,” she said. “I was always willing to try anything that has a link with China to increase my overall knowledge.”

She then moved to Shanghai and entered the Chinese corporate world, working in advertising and consumer market research. In 2005, Turner returned to the US and the following year she founded China Prep, a company that organized trips to China for American schools and students.

She started working with Dwight School back in 2008 and started work on the joint venture school 20 months ago.

“I tell American students China is changing and it won’t be the same in the future,” Turner said.


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