Darien-China Youth Exchange: Teachers honored for lifetime achievement

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First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, Board of Education Chairman Betsy Hagerty-Ross, Ann Armiger, Darien High School Principal Ellen Dunn, Jean Shortliffe, Selectman Susan Marks and Lynda Sorensen celebrate the 13th year of the Darien-China Youth Exchange – Kevin Webb photo

Now in its 13th year, the Darien-China Youth Exchange has been responsible for giving hundreds of students both here and abroad a new view of the world.

On Monday night, students, parents, school staff and local leaders gathered for the program’s annual “Passing the Chopsticks” send­ off party, during which students from last year’s exchange address the new conscripts. However, this year’s gathering had a special focus–honoring staff members Ann Armiger, Lynda Sorensen and Jean Shortliffe for their valiant contributions to the program.

“Without these three women, none of us would be in this room today,” Selectman Susan Marks, who had two children participate in the program, said. “Through their dedication and their hard work and their many hours, they’ve taught our children so much.”

The Darien-China Youth Exchange program began in 2001 with the help of a grant from the U.S. State Department. The program is meant to engage students from Darien High School and Qingdao #58 High School of China’s Shandong Province in an educational and cultural exchange. Prior to 2007, DHS was partnered with Shanghai #3 Girls’ School.

Chinese students typically arrive in Darien at the start of the school year, staying for a week or more. In addition to experiencing life in Darien, students travel to New York City and Washington D.C. to gain a better grasp of American life. Darien’s students complete the exchange each April, staying with their host families for three weeks.

Though staff members accompany the students on the trip each year, they are also responsible for the complex logistics that come with a long term international program. That sort of behind the scenes work often goes unrecognized, but this year the people surrounding Armiger, Sorensen and Shortliffe chose to surprise the trio with lifetime achievement awards for their unwavering dedication to the program they started.

“Ann has always been the logistical one, Linda’s always known as the softtouch where she’ll give a hug, and then Jean has the important job of keeping the glue together between the three of you,” Marks said.

DHS teachers Patrick Egan and Doug Paulsen thanked the women for their leadership both in the program and in the school, recognizing their place as role models for the rest of the faculty. Board of Education Chairman Betsy Hagerty-Ross and First Selectman Jayme Stevenson were also among those to thank the three for their work.

“I want you all to know how incredibly important this program is to the town of Darien,” Stevenson told the group. “It’s so wonderful that the town of Darien can take ourselves and the things that we know and can teach to young students and their teachers in China. I commend all of you for the role you play in continuing this program.”

Front Row- Coco Steinthal, Breana DelGatto,Peyton Murray, Natalie Gorman, Katie Schorr  Back Row- Hanna Vossler, Leela Krishnan, Francisco Sucre, Felix Rooney, Brandon DelGatto, Connor Gonzalez-Falla, Helena Nicholls

This group of Darien High School will be visiting Qingdao, China: Front Row- Coco Steinthal, Breana DelGatto,Peyton Murray, Natalie Gorman, Katie Schorr
Back Row- Hanna Vossler, Leela Krishnan, Francisco Sucre, Felix Rooney, Brandon DelGatto, Connor Gonzalez-Falla, Helena Nicholls

After 13 years and two school partnerships, the exchange program shows no signs of slowing down, as it prepares to send a dozen students to China.Egan has been working to prepare the group along with DHS teacher Kristen Backus and with the help of the schools experienced and exceptional staff, they are once again ready to participate in a global education mission.

“When we first got the State Department grant, the State Department said it was ‘kitchen table diplomacy,’” Shortliffe said after receiving her award. “And that’s what it is, it’s to bring people to get together to eat, to talk and to just sit down together so they can have better understanding. And that’s the goal, and I hope you guys have lots of it in the future.”

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