You haven’t heard much from us lately, but that’s about to change; this is the first in a series of blog posts about what Cool Mountain Education Fund has been doing, and actually we’ve been doing a lot. Here is a quick summary, and more detailed posts on each section will follow at weekly intervals.
Our Website has a new look. Thanks to the dedicated and creative efforts of board member Givens Parr, our website is up-to-date with new profiles of our mission, our history, our personnel Nuosu society and culture, and our past and current programs. Have a look.
Our pay-it-forward scholarship program continues, under the able leadership of board member Dr. He Wenhai (Yyhxo Vuqie). When schools re-open in March after the Han New Year holiday (as Nuosu people call it), we will be paying the second-semester installments of this year’s scholarships, and looking to recruit new recipients for the 2021-22 school year.
We’re expanding trilingual education. Using textbooks prepared by Dr. Aga, our trilingual Nuosu-Chiense-English classes for fourth-through sixth-grade students at Zeyue Elementary school have now expanded to a second school, Jile Elementary in Puge County. Sichuan Normal University is providing support for this program along with CMEF.
So watch this space.. More details are coming in the coming weeks.
It’s been too long since I blogged, but Cool Mountain has been busy with our new projects. Here’s a quick update:
We have formed our Scholarship Advisory Council, composed of our former scholarship recipients who are now schoolteachers themselves, to nominate their own students for this year’s scholarships. We asked them to nominate students who are good in their studies (not necessarily those with the highest grades, but good, diligent students), and whose families are poor and in need of help to keep them in school. Under this program, we gave eight scholarships of 4,000 yuan (about $600) each.
Jike Avie is one of our recipients. She comes from the remote mountain village off Yilowo, and attends the 8th Grade at Bapu Middle School in Meigu County, where the population is over 98% Nuosu. She has a brother in the 7th grade and a sister in elementary school. Her total family income last year was about 8,000 yuan Here is her story, in her own words:
I’m a student from Meigu County in the Great Cool Mountains. Our family economy is pretty difficult–when ww were little, my dad was very able; he supported our family. But when we were in the seventh grade, we suddenly found out that he had cancer, and our household income was cut off. My mother never had any good education, so she has always been a farmer; she doesn’t understand much, and only speaks our Nuosu language. I’m still a pretty good student; outside of studying, I like to play basketball, listen to music and sing. I want to study hard and make a contribution to society.
Our other project is girls’ education and trilingual education at Zeyue Primary School in Xide County. Board member Dr. Aga Rehamo has begun these projects with support from the Institute of Multicultural Education at Sichuan Normal University, where she is an Associate Professor. Aga’s graduate students have been teaching elementary sex education to girls at the school, and Aga has developed a trilingual Nuosu-Chinese-English textbook for fourth through sixth grades. This is the first program anywhere in Liangshan that has combined English with the Nuosu people’s own language, so that using Chinese as an intermediary language is now optional rather than the only way to learn English.
CMEF Board Member Dr. Aga Rehamo wrote last night that 10 basketballs have arrived at Zeyue Elementary School, purchased through contributions from Cool Mountain contributors. Principal Ashuo can now start practice (uniforms will arrive later). He has been very successful as a boys’ coach, and is eager to extend his expertise and enthusiasm to the girls’ team. Zeyue has also received textbooks for girls to study women’s health.
The third prong of our girls’ education program, a band to play traditional Nuosu music, will get started when we can purchase the instruments with the advice of well-known Nuosu Yi musicians.
Special thanks go to the Journey Charitable Foundation, a longtime supporter of girls’ education around the world, and to everyone who has contributed to our efforts!
Since we started in 2005, Cool Mountain Education Fund has given scholarships to over 200 graduates of Yangjuan Primary School, and over 50 of them have graduated from 3-year or 4-year colleges. They are now working as local officials, engineers, and businesspeople, but perhaps most important, 10 of them are now schoolteachers, serving in elementary and middle schools all over the Cool Mountains.
After Yangjuan Primary School closed in 2016, our scholarship support for Yangjuan graduates is coming to an end. But we are united in our continued effort to improve the educational chances of children in the Cool Mountains. So our board has agreed on an innovative plan to pay the scholarships forward: We are appointing all the former Yangjuan graduates who are now teachers to a Scholarship Advisory Council, and asking them to nominate their own poorest and most deserving students for our scholarships, beginning in 2019.
To consult with and gain support from our new Advisors, I met with three of them and communicated with several others over the phone or the internet while I was in China, and they have all agreed to participate. For the first year, we are asking each of them to nominate just one student, and our board members Aga Rehamo and He Wenhai will vet the nominations to make sure they meet our standards (students whose families really need help with their education, and who show promise of doing well in school in the future), and assure that they really do continue in school when they receive our scholarships. If we succeed our first year, we will expand the program in future years.
Here are some of the teachers I met with or talked to on my most recent trip. All of them will be nominating their students for scholarships.
I’ve recently returned from the Cool Mountains, and I want to talk about our two new projects. First, Zeyue Elementary School in Xide County.
Xide County is in the heartland of Old Liangshan, and its local pronunciation was chosen in the 1970s as the standard for the Nuosu Yi Language. The county seat is in a lowland valley, and downriver from the city are mostly Han Chinese Farmers. But around the city and farther into the mountains, everyone is Nuosu–Nuosu account for about 85% of the population of Xide.
Cool Mountain Education Fund board member Professor Aga Rehamo has started an exciting project in Zeyue (Jjixyuo in Nuosu) Township Elementary School, a half-hour drive narrow roads from the Xide county seat. The school is well-appointed, much more “modern” than Yangjuan Primary School where CMEF focused our previous efforts. Aga’s project is about preserving and developing students’ abilities in the written form of their native Nuosu language, while opening them up at an early age to the English language that will be an important key to future careers.
With support from the Chinese Ministry of Education and from Sichuan Normal University where she teaches, Aga has begun a trilingual education project with 5th- and 6th- graders at Zeyue. Using teaching materials she wrote with the help of CMEF board member Kaitlin Banfill, Aga has assigned two graduate students to work together with Nuosu Yi language teachers to teach Yi literacy and basic English at the same time in the same class, thereby allowing Nuosu students to learn English directly from their own language, rather than through the intermediary of Chinese.
When Aga was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Washington, she had the opportunity, with the help of the Makah Cultural and Research Center at Neah Bay on the Makah Reservation in Northwest Washington, to study the way the Makah are reviving their formerly almost-lost native language through research, work with elders who speak the language well, and teaching the language in their own public elementary school. So it seemed opportune to continue the exchange by inviting Janine Ledford, director of the Makah Center, and native-language teacher Adriene Bowechop to visit the trilingual project in Xide. We all went together in mid-November. Adriene and Janine introduced their language programs to academic audiences in Chengdu and Xichang, and spent a day at Zeyue, where they not only taught an English class and observed the trilingual class, but also had a chance to discuss the issues and solutions of mother-tongue education with Zeyue Principal Ashuo and the teachers directly involved in the trilingual program and other Yi-language education.
Aga’s grants and her Institute for Multicultural Education funded all this, but CMEF is getting involved at Zeyue. Through President Tami Blumenfield’s tireless efforts, we have obtained our fourth grant for girls’ education from the Journey Charitable Foundation of Houston, and in addition to the scholarships that I will detail in my next post, we are going to fund a three-part girls’ education program at Zeyue. This will consist of basic sex education, a lute band, and a girls’ basketball team. Eclectic? Read further…
Sex education is something that Nuosu children rarely get, but which is really necessary in today’s Cool Mountains, where AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are way too prevalent. We will be using materials derived from China’s best sex education curricula, and graduate students from Sichuan Normal University will teach the classes to upper-grade girls. Our funds will go for teaching materials for this important program.
A girl band? Of course! We also visited Heboluo Elementary School, a half-hour in another direction from Xide county seat, where all classes are taught in Nuosu and Principal Ashuo served for several years before his transfer to Zeyue this fall. There there is already a girls’ band that plays the panbie, or lute, as you can see and hear if you click on this video link IMG_0282. We’re going to help duplicate this at Zeyue, and purchase the instruments for the band.
And Principal Ashuo is a former basketball star (on the local level, to be sure) who has successfully coached boys’ teams and wants to try his skills at a girls’ team. This is unusual in the Cool Mountains, but he thinks it will be popular and will work, and we are willing to spring for some equipment and uniforms.
We’re very excited about this new direction for CMEF, and we hope you are, too!
I’m writing to announce two big changes that will happen at Cool Mountain Education Fund over the next year or two.
First, our leadership is changing. 13 years after co-founding CMEF and leading it as President, I’m stepping down. It has been an immensely gratifying (and challenging) 13 years, and I want to thank all our followers, donors, and supporters for the confidence you have shown in us and the material and moral support you’ve provided. Tami Blumenfield, one of the co-founders of the organization, has taken over as President. Tami has long experience in research in Southwest China, including the Cool Mountains, and I’m confident that the organization will prosper under her leadership. I will serve as Vice-President for a year to facilitate the transition, and then assume a very reduced role as board member and senior adviser.
All the students of the Yangjuan Primary School at its opening ceremony, Fall 2000
Second, we are wrapping up what has been our main program so far, scholarships to graduates of Yangjuan Primary School. This is because the program has been successful.We have supported over 200 students, and over 60 of them have graduated from college and are now employed as teachers, government officials, engineers, or businesspeople. Incomes have risen in Yanyuan county, where the villages of Yangjuan, Pianshui, and Mianba are located, and families have become increasingly able to support education costs for their own children. When Yangjuan School closed in 2016, it marked the end of an era of village education–students from these villages now attend a modern, well-equipped elementary school in nearby Baiwu before going on to middle school, and usually high school and college. The villages are also losing population as more and more people move to urban areas in Liangshan and beyond.
However, we are not going away! There are places in the Cool Mountains that are still desperately poor and remote, where few people can afford education costs, and therefore do not go beyond elementary or middle school. Several of our Yangjuan graduates are now elementary and middle school teachers in those places, and we are starting to work through them to provide scholarships for promising students from really poor families, along with considering the possibility of adopting another school for a targeted scholarship program.
This year, we will give our final scholarships to Yangjuan graduates, and we will keep you posted as our programs develop. Thank you again for your support.
This weekend, my students Luo Juan and Zeng Xiaoshun, both of whom visited Yangjuan last summer, CMEF vice president Tami Blumenfield and board member Kaitlin Banfill, and my collaborator Nuosu scholar Aga Rehamo, have organized a conference celebrating my career at the UW. Board Member He Wenhai, another Nuosu scholar, will attend the conference also, on his first trip to the US.
As part of the conference and the celebration, we are organizing a drive for this year’s CMEF scholarship fund. We need to try to raise $12,000, and we have contributions or pledges for $4500 so far. It would be wonderful if many friends who read this blog would make a donation and help out!
Last month, I went on a rather rollicking research trip with my Nuosu colleague Aga Rehamo, her husband Muge, who kindly drove the family car for a week over roads not meant for it, and two bright graduate students from Sichuan Normal University College of Education: Wang Huan and Feng Shuang. We were visiting schools in seven counties in Liangshan to investigate the state of Nuosu-Chinese bilingual education. Not good, but that’s a story for another post. What I want to talk about here are visits with three graduates of Yangjuan School who are now teachers or officials in Liangshan, and all of whom are featured on the inside cover pages of our 2017 Cool Mountain Calendar.
Meigu County is the heart of Nuosuland. Over 98% of the county population are Nuosu people, including almost all the major officials, most schoolteachers, an increasing number of businesspeople and store owners, and all the farmers. The historic heart of Meigu is in Niuniuba, about 20km south of the county seat. Niuniuba is where Ma Xiaolan, graduate of Yangjuan School in 2005 and B.A. from Xichang College in 2015, is now teaching 8th grade mathematics. Wang Huan and I visited Niuniuba Middle School by three-wheeler when the family car (see above) got high-bottomed on a road under construction and had to be towed–fortunately the damage was easily fixable and the others joined us a few hours later. Xiaolan was there to greet us, and we had a long interview with her and her principal, a contentious discussion with a Han teacher who still held prejudicial views about Nuosu people, and a visit to a Nuosu language class. Xiaolan has settled in well to this all-boarding school with over a thousand students, and will probably stay there for a few years.
Another 15km south of Niuniuba is Daqiao (a town that, as far as I know, it has no Nuosu-language name, having been built around the “big bridge” after the Communist revolution), and 10 km from Daqiao is Gebu Village, which has a 2-year, first- and second-grade, “teaching point” which is a branch of the Daqiao Town elementary school. Ma Saye, who graduated from Yangjuan in 2006 and got his professional degree (equivalent to an A.A.) in 2016, was assigned to this village school. Although he was a star athlete who majored in physical education, he was assigned here as a second-grade math teacher. We had to abandon our plans to visit his school when the car broke down, but Saye came to town and treated us to lunch, along with his principal. There are five teachers in his school, and only three classrooms. Unlike Yanyuan county, where village schools, including Yangjuan, have all been closed, they are still prevalent in Meigu. Saye said he teaches in standard Mandarin, and that students, even though they don’t speak the language fluently, can do math in it. He probably will teach at such a remote place for only a year or two, and after that will be transferred to a real school.
After some time in Xichang and in Xide County, we spent two days in ga and Muge’s home county of Ganluo, where I had the opportunity to catch up with Li Ajia. He finished his A.A. degree in engineering earlier this year, and is now working for the highway department of Ganluo, making plans for road improvement (something that is definitely needed all over Liangshan). He said that many days he’s a normal office worker, 8:30 to 5 with a lunch break, but that most of the time he’s literally on the road, and as such has visited and consulted on road projects in almost every corner of Ganluo, a land of steep cliffs and deep gorges.
Back in 1998, Ma Lunzy and Benoît Vermander had a dream; a primary school in Ma’s home village of Yangjuan, which would provide elementary education to a community where less than half the children ever went to school, and would also serve as a community center. Through the efforts of many local and outside people, this dream came true in September, 2000, as the Yangjuan Primary School welcomed its first 140 students from Yangjuan, Pianshui, and Mianba villages, in kindergarten, first, and second grades.
By 2004, the school had 320 students in first through sixth grades, and the first class graduated in July, 2005, many of them to go on to middle school, then to high school and college, with help from Cool Mountain Education Fund. Now over 20 Yangjuan School graduates have finished four-year or three-year college programs, and have joined the workforce as teachers, local officials, engineers, or corporate employees.
In summer 2016, however, we received news that Yangjuan Primary School was closed as of the end of the 2015-16 school year, and all teachers and equipment would be moved to nearby Baiwu Comprehensive School. What happened?
Mainly what happened was history. If elementary education was unusual and middle and high school education were rare in 2000, by 2016 all children attended elementary school in Yanyuan County, and almost all went on to middle school, which was tuition-free. Urban schools in Yanyuan county town provided bright, modern classrooms, fancy equipment and, for the best students, internet-based education that connected them with the best schools in the provincial capital of Chengdu. Families’ income was rising; they could afford to rent a room for their children to stay in the county town and for grandparents to take care of them while they attended the modern schools. More and more parents went to China’s big cities as migrant laborers, and many families moved out of Yangjuan, Pianshui, and Mianba altogether, to Yanyuan or even to the prefectural capital of Xichang.
Starting in 2011 or 2012, enrollments at Yangjuan began to fall, as families and education moved with the times. By the final academic year 2015-16, Yangjuan was the only village school remaining in Yanyuan, and it had only 4 full-time teachers and 76 students left. The County Educational Bureau conducted an investigation, and determined that Yangjuan Primary School no longer justified its investment in teachers and resources.
Looking back on it, this should not have been a surprise to any of us, only perhaps that it happened sooner than we expected. History moves on. Yangjuan School gave a generation of Nuosu children the opportunity to have an education, a decade or so before such an education became an expectation for everyone. Walking through the grounds of Yangjuan School this summer, one had an eerie feeling. The big walnut tree, the spruce in the middle of the courtyard, all the signs with slogans from Hu Jintao and the billboards celebrating the founders, were all there if a little bit faded. But we knew that the chanting voices from the classrooms or the cacophony of recess would never ring out there again. End of an era, understandable in light of social change, but a bit mournful nevertheless.
Still, our task is not done. We have three more classes of Yangjuan Graduates who are still to finish college, and we want to make sure we can continue to help them through scholarships. Please consider contributing so we can finish our project.
We’re back, after way too long. A lot has happened since we last blogged, and I’ll be posting every few days for the next couple of weeks. Today I wanted to lay out some of the more important things I’ll be writing about:
1) Yangjuan Primary school is closed. The decision was made by the Yanyuan County Education Office last June. Enrollments had declined from 320 in 2010 to 76 in 2016, for reasons I’ll be setting out in subsequent posts. Everyone–students, teachers, alumni, foreign friends–was sad to see it go, but also recognized that it was a sign of social change. This photo is not of the school, but it expresses the feeling of what has happened.
2) Yangjuan alumni successes continue. There are at least six schoolteachers among Yangjuan graduates now, and I saw several of them at work or near their workplaces on a recent trip to Liangshan. I will be featuring them and some other successful graduates in more subsequent posts.
3) We’ve decided to taper off our scholarship program over the next three years. College is becoming increasingly affordable for Yangjuan alumni families, and so we want to continue to support current college students through to graduation, but we will hold off on picking up new scholarship recipients.
4) We still need your support for the next three years. We will again be producing a beautiful 2017 calendar this year, and we are looking forward to continuing to work with our generous donors as we complete our very successful project.
5) We’re continuing our research efforts. The last two years featured flooding and soil changes, two things that are of great concern to those people who remain in the area and farm. I’ll blog about those in a week or two, also.
6) We’re also planning to write a complete history of Yangjuan Primary School, from conception to closing. It should be a good book, published bilingually. One thing we did this summer was sort out the school’s archives, after they were dumped unceremoniously into some large burlappy bags. More about this later: watch this space.