Over the last two years, senior Abby Huang has built a thriving online English-learning program connecting volunteer Loomis Chaffee students and schoolchildren in rural China, and this spring Abby passed the baton to her successor, who will continue to run and the expand the program.
Abby conceived of the idea for the Global Language Lab as an extension of Loomis' well-established local tutoring outreach program. Beginning in the spring of her sophomore year, she put her idea into action, establishing an interactive online connection between the Island and English language-learners at the Dajia School in Guangdong Province of southern China.
A native of Hong Kong, Abby said she was motivated by the community service programs in which she'd taken part at Loomis and by the school's commitment to global citizenship and service to the common good. She wanted to reach out to the Chinese schoolchildren to share the many opportunities she's enjoyed as a result of her personal good fortune.
On a visit to the region accompanying her father on a business trip, Abby recognized the school children's modest means — in comparison to her own experience in Hong Kong and at Loomis. Abby speaks Cantonese, and when she spoke to representatives from the school, she came to understand that English lessons were limited and generally focused on vocabulary taught from textbooks and with little actual speaking and listening practice.
Abby's idea was to supplement the students' English lessons by making videos of common interactions between English language speakers and to add cultural lessons about life in the United States. She felt the program could help the Dajia students get a leg up on their language learning, which, Abby believes, will help them be successful.
With encouragement and support from her friend Yuyang Zhang '18; her faculty advisor, Naogan Ma; and Heather Henderson, director of Community Service Programs at Loomis, Abby enlisted a group of student volunteers who meet weekly after classes. With support from the Community Service Program, Abby and handful of regular student volunteers write, film, edit, and post video lessons each week.
The five-minute lessons are "skit-based," according to Abby, and touch on English reading, grammar, and vocabulary across a range of topics. When completed, the videos are posted to Youku — a Chinese version of Youtube — and to an interactive website available to Dajia students. When they log onto the site, they are prompted to view the videos and respond to the homework questions at the end of the lesson. Dajia English teachers use the website as a tool to supplement the students' learning. And since the videos are on the shared Youku site, they are available to any English language-learners in China beyond the Dajia School.
With the investment and mentorship of a Norton Fellowship, granted to Abby last summer through the Norton Family Center for the Common Good, she traveled to the Dajia School and spent three weeks conducting a summer language camp for about 40 children. There, she was able further her understanding of the students' educational needs and continued to improve and promote the project when she returned to campus for her senior year this fall.
"Online communication is a powerful tool," acknowledged Abby. Her experience helped her understand the impact of making connections with others outside her normal sphere, and she is proud of the work that she and her fellow volunteers gave created.
The Global Language Lab experience "made me realize that what we do matters," said Abby, adding that she also learned a great deal in the process.
"I see getting this project off the ground as a lot like a start-up business," said Abby, who is considering pursuing an entrepreneurial business program in college.
This spring, Abby handed off leadership of the Global Language Lab to junior Tiffany Lin, who will continue to run and expand the program after Abby graduates in May. Abby presented about her experiences at a Senior Meditations convocation on April 9.