Students in China for Leland & Gray’s Journey East program

TOWNSHEND — Eighteen high school students from Leland & Gray Union High School and other area schools will head to China for a month to perform as part of the program “Journey East: Leland & Gray's Sino-American Academy and Arts Exchange.”

Beginning this past January, the 18 students, ranging in age from 14 to 17, have been enrolled in China-related courses at Leland & Gray in preparation for their month-long performance/study tour of China.

Initiated at Leland and Gray in 2000, the Journey East Program has provided more than 200 high school students with the opportunity to study China in depth and to spend an unforgettable month experiencing the country firsthand. The program has hosted students from schools such as Leland & Gray, Brattleboro Union High School, Bellows Falls High School, Green Mountain High School, The Compass School, Twin Valley High School and Burr & Burton Academy.

A central focus of the Journey East program is an original production developed by the students with musical and artistic direction from longtime Leland & Gray music teacher Ron Kelley and Jennifer Connor, who have extensive experience developing programs that bridge cultural barriers. The show includes various live songs, skits, dancing, and juggling, using the diverse talents of the many students and woven together to create what its organizers call a truly stunning performance.

Because of the language barrier between the American students and Chinese audiences, the show relies almost entirely on nonverbal communication. The show will be performed in several Chinese primary and middle schools, colleges, and universities in Chongqing and cities in Sichuan Province in southwest China, Shandong Province in eastern China and in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region north of Beijing.

During their stay in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, the students will take up residence at The Arts College of Inner Mongolia University where they will collaborate with Chinese Mongolian teachers and students, each sharing their knowledge of songs, dances, and instruments from their cultures.

The culmination of the program in China will be a final, joint performance of vocal and instrumental music and dance for an audience of more than 1,500 people between the Journey East students and their new and, in some cases old, friends from Inner Mongolia.

The Journey East curriculum includes Chinese language instruction, chorus, Chinese cultural studies, and production workshop. The students are taught the Chinese language by Tong Chen, the 2012 Vermont Teacher of the Year.

The course focuses on conversational Mandarin, character writing, pronunciation and grammar. Chorus is taught in conjunction with the high school choir led by Ron Kelley, the musical director and a chaperone of Journey East. Program Director Tom Connor teaches Chinese Cultural Studies, which introduces the students to Chinese culture and history before being immersed in an unfamiliar society.

Upon returning from China, the students are to engage in an in-depth study of an aspect of China that they have found to be particularly interesting and will be asked create a multi-media presentation on that topic.

Former elementary and middle school teachers of these students are encouraged to have the Journey East participants present to their current students.

There will be a final showing of the student production “Spontaneous Combustion” on May 5 at 7:30 pm in Leland & Gray's Dutton Gymnasium. For more information on the trip, the performance, and the Journey East program, visit and

The website will be updated with photos and student essays and reflections on a daily basis through April 24.

The students on this year's trip are: Libby Annis, Dummerston (BUHS); Sophie Bady-Kaye, Putney (Compass School); Muriel Chase, Chester (Green Mountain); Arik Clark, Newfane (LGUHS); Genevieve Darling, South Newfane (LGUHS); Anwyn Darrow, Brattleboro (BUHS); Giannina Gaspero-Beckstrom, Newfane (LGUHS); Eric Ginter, Townshend (LGUHS); Erik Johansson, Marlboro (BUHS); Robin Joslin, Wardsboro (LGUHS); Chris Lasch, South Newfane (LGUHS); Alexa Litchfield, Jamaica (LGUHS); Addie Mahdavi, Newfane (LGUHS); Claire Miramontes, Newfane (LGUHS); Fraser Query, Jamaica/Guilford (LGUHS); Alana Redden, South Newfane (LGUHS); Stephen Scott, Jamaica (LGUHS); and Zoe Soule, Wardsboro (LGUHS).

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