Three Olentangy schools recently were host to a delegation of educators from the Wuhan School System in China in what an Olentangy Orange High School graduate hopes is the beginning of an ongoing cultural exchange.

The visit was initiated by 2016 Orange alum Amanda Ba, who spent time growing up both in the Olentangy area and in China's Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital. Hubei and Ohio have been sister states since 1979.

Ba visited Wuhan with her father, Lin Ba, who works with Columbus Sister Cities International.

"It made an impression on me," she said. "I figured I'd reach out to Olentangy schools to see if there was something we could make happen."

"Over the last 10 to 15 years, our district has really grown in the diversity of its population, and it's important to always reinforce how much we value inclusion and how we are connected to a global community," said Jackie Merkle, the district's supervisor of equity and inclusion.

Six delegates from Wuhan visited Orange Middle School, Orange High School and Freedom Trail Elementary School last month, focusing on the arts, STEM and other programming, Merkle said.

"Chinese schools are part of a very rigorous educational system, but some of them are looking to other places, especially in the West, to see what schools look like and to maybe learn how to incorporate more options in the schools," Amanda Ba said. "From the American side, I think maybe we don't look beyond our borders as much. I think there is a lot to learn and to understand better."

"The school district in Wuhan serves 1.2 million students. That really offered some perspective on how to engage learners," Merkle said.

During the visit, Olentangy Superintendent Mark Raiff and Deputy Director of Wuhan Education Bureau Yongsheng Liu signed a memorandum of cooperation and exchange.

"Our goal is to continue a collaboration and exchange, and we'll be looking for ways to get more people involved," Merkle said.

"That's really the clear benefit, as the exchange progresses, if individuals -- students or teachers -- get to go and experience another culture," said Amanda Ba, a visual arts and art history major at Columbia University. "I really hope this is just the beginning of something."

The Wuhan delegation also visited a school system in northern California during its trip.

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