One-Day Visit to Mount Airy High School by Jing Dai

The front door of Mount Airy High School

Guess what? Three teachers (Isabella, Meng and me) from Beijing Royal School have successfully switched roles to become graduate students in the New Literacy and Global Learning program here at North Carolina State University! Soon after, we visited Mount Airy High school for a day, which has given us the first impression of what a real school is like in the U.S. and we have learnt a bit of the Western educational system.

Mount Airy High School was first built in 1895 and has a history of more than 120 years. Currently, there are 546 enrolled students and the school mascot is a granite bear. According the school website, Mount Airy High School “is consistently in the top ten school systems in North Carolina with the lowest drop-out rate and the highest Graduation Cohort Rate. It strives to give the students classes and opportunities that will enhance their chances of success after high school graduation.” Among the classes provided, Mandarin Chinese stands out to be the most popular course among students.

In the morning, we were warmly welcomed by Assistant Principal Steven Joyce, and some teachers and administrative staff at the front door of the main building. After having a quick pizza lunch in the meeting room, Mr. Joyce gave us a tour of the school building and gave us an introduction of the school history and its development.

A Chinese classroom

During our visit, we also met two Chinese teachers who had just arrived 10 days ago. Selected by Hanban and the College Board, they will work here as full-time teachers for a year. Both teachers were busy preparing for the start of school. We were quite impressed by the Chinese classroom with traditional Chinese-culture based decorations.

The vocational preparation classrooms were eye-opening as we hadn’t seen them in regular high schools in China. Mount Airy High School has provided career and technical education to their students who might look for a full-time job directly after graduation. Accordingly, the school teaches knowledge and skills that allow students to seek all kinds of trajectories in their future careers, not only academically but vocationally as well. This is a picture of a nursing classroom, in which students could learn basic nursing skills while learning the core subjects.

Hand-painted world map

Another place that caught our attention was a newly renovated history classroom, which was designed featuring advanced technology that creates an effective learning environment: the tables are perfect for group discussions, and the hand-painted world map is convenient for students to locate relevant cities where some historical events took place. In doing so, the school has endeavored to promote student motivation in learning.

“Why Poverty Matters?” lecture

In addition, we participated in a professional development session before the school started. All teachers and staff gathered in the auditorium to attend the lecture entitled “Why Poverty Matters?” by a professor from Francis Marion University Center of Excellence that prepared teachers of impoverished children. Back in China, “poverty” was not something commonly mentioned or discussed. To our astonishment, poverty is one of the main causes of high drop-out rates in American schools. From the lecture, we were informed that in the year 2015, poverty rates across all ages in Surry County, where the Mount Airy High is located, was up to 18.2%. Research results have shown that brains could be affected from external circumstances, and that teachers are suggested to spend more time planning the first day of school and keeping strong faith that “students from disadvantaged backgrounds learn at the same rate as advantaged students with effective teachers.”

To sum up, we learned a lot about teaching and learning in American schools. I hope to have more opportunities to visit American schools in the future, so that I could explore more differences and similarities in Western and Eastern education systems.