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Head of Upper School Lynn Casto Represents Sanford at Educational Summit in China

When Head of Upper School Lynn Casto accepted an invitation from International Education Opportunities (IEO), a support group for international students, to represent Sanford in China as a member of a Chinese-American Educational Summit, she formed some pre-trip expectations.
For example, she expected to be thrust into a new and very different cultural world. Casto expected to spend long days working with school representatives from York Country Day, Springside-Chestnut Hill, Pioneer Academy, The Barrie School, and Oakland Catholic High School, along with host IEO personnel. Additionally, Casto expected to learn more about the screening used to help assist Chinese students seeking admission to American schools. And lastly, she expected to tap into her background as an art historian and see works of art she had previously studied from photos and books.

To some extent, each of Casto’s expectations was met. But her preconceived notions are not what lingered as she processed the many experiences that were crammed into her twelve-day, nine-city adventure. What Casto did not anticipate was the overwhelming sense of empathy that she brought back for all international students. She did not speak the language, knew no one who would be accompanying her on her journey, had only a cursory understanding of the cultural customs, and faced jet lag as she flew over 6,500 miles to embark on the busy trip. “All of these things, and more, are what our international students face when they come to America, and they are dealing with these pressures at a much younger age. Just the jet lag alone is a huge factor in performance, and that is often the least of their worries,” stated Casto.

Before departing on October 12, Casto received some unexpected, but greatly welcomed, assistance from many of Sanford’s Chinese students. “They opened up to me in ways that they never had before,” remarked Casto. The Sanford International Student Association (SISA) conducted a special meeting to help educate her so she could be a gracious, comfortable visitor while in China. Without any solicitation, students Jacob Dong ’18 and Susan Tang ’17 created a video, “A Day in the Life at Sanford,” and asked Casto to share it, if possible, with students in China who might wish to attend Sanford. Students Luke Oh ’18, Beverly Qin ’19, and Linda Wu ‘20 also assisted with the production. Dong said, “I have been hoping and waiting for this to happen. To have Mrs. Casto visit my city, Kunming, was surprising and special. I wanted her to tell other students in China that Sanford is a welcoming school with kind teachers. I also wanted them to know how beautiful the Sanford campus is.”

The Chinese high schools are not situated on 100-acre campuses. Casto learned that they are labeled by tiers, and admission to a Tier 1 school is strenuous. High schools are composed of grades 10-12 and can house in excess of 3,000 students. While they have lots of technology-based labs, such as robotics and drones, their lectures are conducted in large auditoriums followed up with smaller break-out sessions led by teaching assistants. The new economic center of Zhengzhou is a city being built from scratch with the hopes of becoming a crossroads in China and a connector to other countries. A part of the planning process includes how to best design the educational system. During special meetings with Chinese officials and educators, including a lavish and delicious three-hour state dinner, Casto’s delegation offered opinions about creating an innovative high school that would incorporate the Chinese aspects and includes the European/English components all under one roof, as opposed to two separate schools. The idea was that this novel approach could help build bridges between the two cultures. “I was reminded,” explained Casto, “that we all want the same thing for our children. Parents want to provide the best educational opportunities, and educators want to ensure that they are preparing their students to be responsible, intelligent global citizens. We certainly have differences in our approach, but we share those core values.”

For now, Casto expects to view her international students with a deeper understanding of what they go through to be a part of the Sanford student body and to have a fuller appreciation for some of the subtle adjustments they are expected to make. She also expects to continue to find ways to ensure they always feel the same welcome at Sanford that was highlighted in the students’ video. Additionally, she wants to improve the global communication with the sending families so they share more fully in their child’s educational journey at Sanford. Finally, Casto expects to satisfy something left unfulfilled during her trip and that is to take her family on a return visit to China—this time as a tourist, not as a working educator--so that she can revel in all the art and art history that she really could not enjoy this time around. It’s also a safe bet that Casto will plan a few stops in the home cities of Sanford students while she is there.

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