When he first came to Shanghai from Anhui Province to live with his mother, Zou Hao got enrolled in a migrant school located in a remote area of Shanghai.  Like many other migrant children, this 6-year-old boy was not even confident in his Mandarin, let alone having any interest in learning English. Scoring less than 40 points in his English exams, Hao did not see any point in learning the foreign language until his fourth summer in Shanghai, when Hao’s mother, Li Zhengfang, picked up a flyer from the village committee about Stepping Stones’ summer program and decided to sign him up. On the first day, Hao refused to go to the class, but eventually gave in under the condition that his Mom would stay with him in the classroom for the whole time. By the end of the very first class, he was absolutely amazed and dashed to his mom cheering:

Mom, this class is so different! They did not speak a SINGLE Chinese word and it is super fun!

Inspired by the distinctive study experience, his initial curiosity turned into an unprecedented learning passion. After completing the 2012 summer program, from September onwards, he commuted by himself to the community center every Saturday to attend Stepping Stone’s newly launched After-school Tuition Program. Encouraged by Stepping Stones’ volunteers, he was able to step outside of his comfort zone to communicate in English. His Mom even sectioned out a small space at home for him to practice his spoken English. By the time he graduated from primary school, he was able to score 85+ in his English tests. Although he had to return to his hometown to continue his middle school education, he is currently ranking top 3 in his class and just scored 96 points in his English mid-term exam this semester! Witnessing the dramatic effect on her own son, Li Zhengfang volunteered to help support Stepping Stones’ classes, and became a full-time staff in the village committee to coordinate the English program, which helps migrant children like her son to gain valuable experiences that they would not likely get elsewhere.

Zou Hao, Student Stepping Stones' Summer Program

“Stepping Stones’ volunteers are very good to us. They are very kind, friendly, and “tender” when they teach us. If we make a mistake, they immediately correct us. The teachers also have very special ways to teach. I like to answer questions. If we get the answer right, they will give us sweets, or they smile and say : you’re great. […] The foreign teachers do not teach us like adults normally teach children. Instead, they communicate with us like other children do. They are very nice to us.  They play with us, and while we are playing, we are also learning a lot. […] My grade used to be just average. After taking the English program, I have a new understanding of English. Now my English grade is top-3 in class. I also help others if they do not understand a question.”

Student Stepping Stones' Shanghai English Program

“These English courses correct my pronunciation, create a relaxed studying atmosphere, and make English easier. I have improved my English grade from 80 to 90. My greatest improvements are in listening and writing.”

Student Stepping Stones' Shanghai English Program

It took quite a bit of encouragement from friends to get me to the volunteer orientation session at Stepping Stones two years ago. I do not have children, it has been a long time since I was in a classroom and I was terrified of the mischief that 50 children might get up to. […] The orientation session convinced me that there is an urgent need for English speakers in migrant schools and that I could positively impact the children’s results at school. Stepping Stones provide a lot of very practical resources to develop a lesson plan and prepare for the classes. I have been very impressed with the quality of support and professionalism of all the staff at Stepping Stones. The children were in fact very well behaved, they were very excited to see us each week and I saw improvements in all their abilities over the course of each term. I usually left class smiling and made lots of new friends with co-teachers from many different countries. […] Most importantly I felt like I was actually making a contribution to local peoples lives. It is easy to get caught up in an expat bubble in Shanghai. Stepping Stones provided a link for me to understand a little more about what life is really like for many local people.

Claire, Volunteer Stepping Stones' Zhejiang English Program

“When I was approached to be part of this new, innovative scheme to provide children in more remote parts of China with English lessons taught by native speakers, I didn’t hesitate. I had loved teaching with Stepping Stones when I lived in China and now my week would provide me with forty minutes where I felt like I was back there. […] I knew teaching via videolink would be challenging at times but any problems that arose were not insurmountable. The biggest challenges were the variable Internet speed and not being physically present in the classroom to move amongst the students. The Internet speed varied from week to week. Some weeks there were no problems, whilst at other times there was a sound delay, which meant I needed to adapt my teaching to allow for this. Like all classrooms where I have taught in China, the students were eager to learn and well behaved. They sat in the same seat each week, so by having a seating plan on the wall above my computer, I was able to get the attention of any students I felt were becoming distracted. […] Each week, Ross at Stepping Stones provided me with a PowerPoint lesson. This formed the basis of my lesson. I found the student’s attention was highest when I was on full screen, so I added real objects to illustrate teaching points and used a small white board for incidental teaching or to play games. My lessons were revision of work already taught by the school’s English teacher. I found the students knew the content well but needed practice with pronunciation. This improved greatly over time along with the student’s confidence in participating and interacting with me. […] I have enjoyed this experience very much. It can be challenging, and you need to be adaptable, as you don’t have the same control over all the variables as you do in the classroom. It has been wonderful seeing the beaming smiles of the students as they arrive and leave our virtual classroom.”

Nola Clark, Volunteer Stepping Stones' Online English Program

“These kids really make my day! Since I’m not a native speaker , I wasn’t sure if I could teach the Chinese students, but I must say I’m so glad that I started doing this. I feel my English level is good enough and these kids give me so much back every week. I’m always happy after spending the time with them all.”

Randi Lur, Volunteer Stepping Stones' Shanghai English Program

“I didn’t have a chance to say thank you for the opportunity to enjoy this marvellous experience at the school.  I enjoyed and learned a lot this year with my colleagues and my students.  I miss them already.”

Claudia Souza, Volunteer Stepping Stones' Shanghai English Program

“I’m one of the volunteers from New York University Shanghai and I wanted to write and tell you what a rewarding experience working with your organization has been for me.  The first day teaching, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to keep control of the children, let alone teach them anything worthwhile.  But I found that they were just as eager to learn as I was to teach, and that overcame any language barrier we had.  Coming back week after week and seeing more students repeat and understand the phrases we taught them was truly inspiring.”

Becca Mondshein, Volunteer Stepping Stones' Shanghai English Program

“As a secondary education major, I wasn’t sure how teaching small children was going to work, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. I’m glad I did. On the whole, the kids seem enthusiastic and eager to prove themselves. Retention is pretty good. They absorb new ideas quickly. And sure, there are some bumpy days, but I know the place isn’t Bel-Air Academy. My partner and I always tell each other if we can impart a little English on a couple dozen Chinese kids – even if it’s just “I’m from Anhui!” or “Can I sit down?” – then it’s a good day. It’s also so entertaining to be around these kids who are full of energy, from different backgrounds, with different stories and different personalities… one kid tells me his dog’s name, another kid has both pinkies up his nose all the time and another one attacks “347 + 492” when I write it on the board, as his classmates shout corrections at him. We take in so much in the space of ninety minutes. It’s pretty awesome.

Jason Wang, Volunteer Stepping Stones' Shanghai English Program

“The current English curriculum in China emphasizes writing and reading but pays little attention to listening and speaking. Stepping Stones provides the service that we most need help with. I think Stepping Stones’ volunteers enjoy the interaction with our teachers. We started a program called Discussion Time last semester, in which our teachers practice oral English with Stepping Stones’ volunteers for about 20-30 minutes per week. The program has greatly helped the teachers.”

Pang Yuyi Hua Hong School, Minhang, Shanghai

“Stepping Stones is a great project. It offers our students the opportunity to experience western culture and to improve their oral skills. Stepping Stones’ impact on the students is that they have become braver and more confident to speak, and more open. When I have doubts about pronunciation or grammar, I also ask for help from the volunteers.”

Zuo Yan, Teacher Hua Hong School, Minhang, Shanghai

“Stepping Stones’ program’s impact on me is that I have the opportunity to communicate face to face with foreigners. In this way, my oral English has improved; it has made me braver to communicate in English. The impact on the students is that students have become more active, because the classes are very lively.”

Guo Jia, Teacher Tangsi School, Shanghai

“Volunteering broadens students’ vision. Volunteers bring fresh knowledge from the outside world and bring it to the students. This is what is lacking in our regular school classes. The volunteers raise students’ interest in English and make them like the subject more.”

Liu Jing, Teacher Hua Bo Li Xing Hang, Minhang, Shanghai

“I think this trip exceeded my expectations, and definitely expanded my views on what is considered “rural,” in China, and also opened my eyes to the education system in rural areas. Honestly, before leaving on the trip, I was apprehensive about the environment and what awaited me in Taohuajiang. What did I get myself into, signing up for rural volunteering? What would the kids be like? What were their English levels? What were the teachers like? By the end of my first week in Taohuajiang, I felt more comfortable both in the town and at the school, which was aided by the wonderful teachers and students at the school. Furthermore, my experience really opened my eyes to the differences between the education systems between more urban and rural areas, allowing me to see how much more support those in rural areas need.”

Connie Yuan, Volunteer Stepping Stones' Rural Program, Taojiang County, Hunan

“We really like the Stepping Stones voluntary English teaching programme at our school.  Students who join the programme become more interested in learning English.  They like your programme and the volunteers that come to our school.  We hope to see you again next school term.”

Director of Studies Primary school in Putuo, Shanghai

“Stepping Stones allows volunteers to enjoy an enriching experience with children from rural China and to explore the difference between Chinese cities. I learned to prepare a course, explain and teach it to the students.”

Sebastien Brion, Volunteer Stepping Stones' Rural Program, Luyi, Henan

 “If you are considering taking part in a Volunteer Placement with Stepping Stones, definitely do it! The experience will offer a completely new view on China, give you the chance to make a very real difference to the lives of ambitious students, and be one of the most rewarding and inspirational things you do.”

Helen Roxburgh, Volunteer Stepping Stones' Rural Program, Longxi, Gansu

“I experienced how much power a teacher could have over his/her students so that being a teacher implies great responsibility. I want to dedicate myself to the education sector in the future.”

Zhou Luoyi, Volunteer Stepping Stones' Rural Program, Yuzhong, Gansu

“Volunteering with EGRC and Stepping Stones allowed me to see firsthand the transformational and life-changing value of education. I had a fantastic time and experience and would highly recommend it to anyone considering it!”

Emmelyn Wu, Volunteer Stepping Stones' Rural Program, Longxi, Gansu

“I learned how to deal with kids. Before I always thought they are annoying, but now I find them cute and smart. For the kids, I think it’s good for them to have a relaxing learning environment and a friendly teacher, because they are too stressed out at school… The highlight was on the last day when a student asked us if we could come next year. That was when I felt I succeeded as a teacher. ” 

Nevile Wang, Volunteer Stepping Stones' Rural Program, Qiuzhuang, Jiangsu

“The training I received beforehand really helped me. I was feeling kind of nervous because it was the first time for me to ever teach children, let alone teach children English in a foreign country. But during the training I was given tips to help me make the children behave, ideas about games I could play during class. It brought me a lot of joy and also a sense of pride when students could answer my questions, especially when I tested them by asking somewhat difficult questions.”

Hannelore Vervoort, Volunteer Stepping Stones' Rural Program, Sangzhi, Hunan

“I didn’t really know what to expect or didn’t really think much of what I should expect. I was surprised with Henan. You can still feel traditions you can’t easily grasp in the big cities. People are friendly, open and very curious. Our students were always playing with huge bugs, which made me smile a lot.”

Isabelle Roske, Volunteer Stepping Stones' Rural Program, Dengfeng, Henan