From Beijing

Not the Beijing of the Olympics

Now that Flickr is finally unblocked in China, I’ve posted a bunch of photos I took on a walk with my friend Marco (visiting from Shanghai en route to Italy) from our hotel to the Dandelion School. Every day the students and I take the bus to school because the walk is long, the weather is hot and the sidewalk-less road is dusty. People were curious but friendly as I walked around like a tourist with my camera. The walk is not what I would call pleasant, but it was a fascinating tour through a predominantly migrant neighborhood. This is where the people that build Beijing’s skyscrapers and sweep its streets live.

Dandelion School on NPR

The first day the DukeEngage students and I arrived at the Dandelion School we were put to work with a team of dentists who were volunteering their time to examine the mouths of 600 students. At lunch we were fed the same food Dandelion students eat every day: stir fried vegetables, a tiny bit of meat thrown in, and nutrient enhanced rice. The school doctor told us not to be scared of the yellow-orange pellets mixed in with the otherwise normal looking rice — that’s the added vitamins. I eat the rice every day now, and hardly notice the little pellets in my food.

NPR broadcast a story about the nutrition program at the Dandelion School about a week and a half ago. (It’s amazing that I work at the school, but found the NPR story a week and a half after it was broadcast!) I’m not sure how much the added nutrients actually increase standardized test scores — that could also be due to the school’s better teacher recruitment and retention in the last one or two years — but I’m sure it’s helping out the students who arrive at the school malnourished or the students who, like the story points out, ate a steady diet of instant noodles.

Art at the Dandelion School

One of my favorite things about the Dandelion School is that it’s covered in murals and mosaics designed by students. Without the artwork, the school would be a drab collection of cement buildings surrounding a cement courtyard.

This week, artist Lily Yeh was at the school continuing her work with the Dandelion students on tile and mirror mosaics in a narrow path that leads to the library and more classrooms at the back of the school. She has helped the students transform the school into a work of art and has worked with them to write about their journeys through China and about their hometowns.

The students work on the mosaic in groups of 10 or so, and then rotate with their classmates. When I walk to the library, I dodge 13-year-olds smashing mirror and tile on the ground to attach to the wall. (The boys enjoy smashing the mirrors so much that I’ve started to wear closed-toe shoes to protect my feet from flying glass.)

More photos soon…