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Columns

December 17, 2012

Chinese teacher learned American education methods in Oneonta

An experiment of “East meets West” began for sixth-grade students at the Percy I. Bugbee School in the autumn of 1947. It was early October, and the students were anxiously awaiting the arrival of their new teacher — from China.

Bugbee School Principal Willis P. Porter had become acquainted with Yen Yi-Yun while he was a sergeant in the U.S. Army, stationed in China during World War II. Through his efforts, Yi-Yun, who also was known as Isabella, was brought here to teach. The experiment was the first of its kind at a New York state teachers college. Bugbee was then a training school for the Oneonta State Teachers College, known today as the State University College at Oneonta.

Ever since the students were notified of Yi-Yun’s appointment as their teacher, members of the sixth grade had been planning for her arrival. Among the gifts they prepared was a diary of daily events in the classroom since the school opened in September. They kept a close watch on her travels, through correspondence.

This was Yi-Yun’s first visit to the United States. It wasn’t an easy or quick trip in getting here, as she boarded a ship Sept. 13. A typhoon off the coast of Japan caused a considerable delay. She arrived in San Francisco and took a train eastbound.

Finally, Wednesday, Nov. 5, about 30 sixth-grade students waited in the dampness of the D&H Railroad Station, today’s Stella Luna Ristorante on Market Street, for the Binghamton-Albany bound passenger train.

As described by The Binghamton Press, “A small woman in a blue coat, carrying a blue muff-purse, was escorted from the train by Willis P. Porter.”

“Bruce Salisbury, red-headed sixth grader who towered over the little Chinese teacher, gave the official welcome and introduced each of his classmates, individually.”

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