Suzhou North America (SNA) High School in Suzhou, China, opened last year with 300 students with the help of Hiller Spires, the Alumni Distinguished Graduate Professor of Literacy Education at the NC State College of Education.
As SNA’s co-designer, Spires and her team helped design the school’s curriculum and learning spaces that foster collaboration, integrate emerging technologies, and enable inquiry-based learning.
Now, entering its second year, SNA has about 600 students in grades seventh through 12th and 73 teachers from 17 countries around the world. The school also has a new honorary principal: Spires.
“I have a great team to work with: Erin Lyjak, the project manager, and Marie Himes, curriculum specialist,” Spires said. “They are smart, talented women who are a pleasure to work with.”
SNA announced the honor during Spires’ recent trip to Suzhou with seven others affiliated with the college to conduct the 2017 New Literacies Teacher Leader Institute. The week-long institute brought the SNA teachers together to unpack the school’s curriculum, learn about Project-Based Inquiry (PBI) Global, and design lesson plans for a school-wide reading of “A Long Walk to Water.”
“Helping and implementing Suzhou North America High School has been a transformative experience for me as an educator,” Spires said. “Every time I visit the school, I am energized and inspired.”
“There are many challenges around creating a supportive community for local and international teachers that honors everyone’s talents and strengths,” she said. “The leadership is working diligently to create a dynamic, supportive environment that respects learners from all cultures.”
During the first year, SNA hired an academic principal from the U.S., Alison Schleede. She helped the school begin to implement the learner-centered curriculum framework that Spires and her team designed.
Spires also helped facilitate a partnership between SNA and the Wake STEM Early College High School. With the leadership support of Wake STEM Early College Principal David Schwenker, teachers and students from SNA and Wake STEM engage together in Project-Based Inquiry (PBI) Global. They collaborate across time, space and culture on inquiry-based projects.
“From the start of this project, I saw an opportunity to connect North Carolina teachers and students to Chinese culture and education,” she said.
The New Literacies Teacher Leader Institute provides the SNA teachers with hands-on, minds-on experiences that encourage them to inquire, collaborate and create. They are also learning how to create highly engaging, learning-centered instructional activities that meet the needs of all learners, particularly English Language learners, using a variety of digital tools, Spires said.
And while Spires is helping SNA become a model school for China as the country transforms its educational system to prepare students to be global citizens in a knowledge economy, the SNA teachers are re-energizing her.
“The people, place and passion for learning are inspirations,” Spires said. “As I was working with the teachers, I was reminded of Nelson Mandela’s quote: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world.’ I fully believe it.”