For a few days last week, New Albany Middle School was home to nine students visiting a U.S. school for the first time.

Through a partnership with the International Partnership of Education Research and Communication, the students were at the school for three days.

Principal Donna LeBeau said the students arrived Jan. 14 and left Jan. 16.

LeBeau said IPERC officials reached out to her because New Albany Middle School offers Mandarin Chinese classes.

The New Albany-Plain Local School District has taught Mandarin classes since the 2012-13 scholastic year, said district spokesman Patrick Gallaway.

The visit gave seventh-graders studying Mandarin an opportunity to use their skills with fluent speakers, LeBeau said.

It also gave students a chance to learn firsthand about middle schoolers in China, she said.

"It's an opportunity for our students to get a global perspective in a very, very real way," LeBeau said.

IPERC, founded in 2012, is a nonprofit organization established to encourage cross-cultural collaboration with students in grades K-12 in the U.S. and China, said Vicky Shillington, an IPERC vice president. The organization's main U.S. office is in Columbus, she said.

Schools can work with IPERC to participate in its shadow program, said Jing Han, the organization's president.

New Albany-Plain Local did not pay anything for the visit, Gallaway said.

Although nine middle school students visited New Albany, groups of as many as 30 students can participate in the shadow program at a time, Shillington said.

IPERC decided to work with New Albany Middle School because the school district has a strong Mandarin program and the city has economic connections to China, she said.

Students who participate in the shadow program often develop lifelong friendships, Shillington said. The experience helps build a better cultural understanding by breaking down cultural barriers and stereotypes, helping students become better global citizens, she said.

The nine students visiting from Shanghai flew into Los Angeles on Jan. 10, Shillington said.

After three days in New Albany, tours of Ohio State University and the Ohio Statehouse were planned Jan. 17, Shillington said. From there, the students were to visit Washington, D.C., on Jan. 18, Philadelphia on Jan. 20, New York City on Jan. 21 and then fly home Jan. 22, she said.

While the students were in New Albany, they stayed with host families in New Albany and Columbus, Shillington said.

Students were paired during their time in New Albany.

Brian Niederpruem, a 12-year-old seventh-grader, was buddied up with 11-year-old sixth-grader Danny Yuxuan.

Brian said he enjoyed showing Danny things in class, such as hands-on work during science experiments and how to use a graphing calculator -- a device Danny hadn't used in school before.

At recess, many students ended up watching Danny and his friend play basketball, Brian said.

"That was really cool," he said.

Danny, who lives in Shanghai, said he has played basketball for six years.

He said he enjoyed eating hamburgers and pizza at school during lunch.

Kennison Zeppernick, a 12-year-old seventh-grader, said buddying up with 11-year-old sixth-grader Seven Chen was fun because she was able to learn about Seven's interests and she enjoys talking to people from other places.

Now, Kennison said, she wants to learn Mandarin.

Speaking Mandarin was something 13-year-old seventh-grader Xiaowen Zhu has grown up doing. Zhu was paired with 11-year-old sixth-grader Donghe Hu during his visit.

Xiaowen said she liked speaking Mandarin to someone outside her family.

Although middle school can be a tough time for some, LeBeau said, she is grateful to work with her New Albany students.

When she sees them demonstrate kindness, joy and a welcoming attitude, "it makes my heart go pitter-patter," she said.

Parents in the community are raising "amazing" kids, LeBeau said.

"We are so lucky to get to be a part of that," she said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah