Ruyan Teng: Building education superhighway for youth
Although it looks just like any other house on Travilah Road in Rockville, Maryland, Ruyan Teng’s house is different.
Not only did she design and build it herself, she currently uses it as a base for providing unique educational opportunities to the children and teenagers of her community.
Teng, who trained as a computer engineer, has been devoted to enhancing the education of young students for more than 10 years.
In 2005, Teng founded a small, afterschool class to teach elementary and middle school students about computer language, programming and Web design. All classes were held in her house, which became the C&T Youth Technology Academy of today.
“My own children were my initial motivation when I started,” Teng said.
Teng’s son David was born in 1995 and her daughter Grace was born in 1998.
As her kids grew and started going to school, Teng realized that having been raised and educated in China, she knew little about American education.
Teng had come to the US in 1991 to earn a master’s in information technology at George Mason University.
“I really wanted to learn how the American education system works in order to provide the right way of parenting my children while raising them in the US,” Teng said.
She began by becoming active in school programs and did research on after-school enrichment programs.
“I did not find exactly what I thought would fit my children’s needs,” Teng said.
“I realized what I needed to do was become involved, learn and then begin to change the approach I could use to provide for my children’s needs,” Teng said.
In 2001, computer science and digital technology were booming.
“My son and his friend, though only 6 years old, were very interested in the new technology,” Teng said.
The school did not provide any such classes at that time. Teng did not want the kids to miss out on the best opportunities to learn the most advanced technology. She and her husband, Xiaoming Chen, a computer software architect, began to teach their children, as well as their children’s friends, at their home.
Soon, Teng’s program had a large following, as families had similar goals for their kids.
As the classes grew, Teng saw there was an interest on the part of parents in building a private youth learning center to provide a wide range of studies not typically offered in schools.
Classes grew to include creative writing, public speaking, community service and leadership development, all subjects that are, in Teng’s words, “just as important as computer technology skills”.
Though they started C&T (Chen & Teng) by providing knowledge and skills to young people, Teng was always clear that this was not her ultimate goal.
“My educational philosophy, which was shaped by my educational experience, is that first and foremost, education should produce ‘good people’,” Teng said.
“The traits of grit, integrity, zest, optimism and gratitude don’t seem to be the focus of the typical classroom,” Teng said. “C&T has always been trying to focus on the attributes that the typical classroom might miss.”
“I felt, in American schools, the kids were not always getting opportunities to build these traits, almost like character development was not receiving enough attention,” Teng said.
In 2009, Teng learned about Yale University’s Building Bridges program, which sends college students to teach children in rural areas affected by natural disasters.
“I realized if college students could do this, why not high school students?”
It was a year after the deadly earthquake hit Sichuan province, which caused catastrophic devastation in southwest China.
Teng, together with five American teenagers, including both of her kids, went to Shifang, Sichuan, and spent 10 days there, teaching children who had lost their schools and homes in the earthquake.
“It was the first time we had been exposed to such poverty,” Teng said. “However, no one on the team complained about that when they came back. All they remembered was how beautiful China was and how sweet the kids were.”
That set Teng’s determination to start the Youth Building Bridges (YBB) program, which enables American and Chinese students to travel to rural, poverty-stricken areas in China, teaching and sharing their knowledge within the primary and secondary school systems.
In the years since, Teng and YBB’s footprint has reached rural areas not only in Sichuan, but also in Shandong, Zhejiang, Anhui and Gansu provinces.
This June, for the eighth time, YBB will send American high school students to Jishishan in Gansu province, an impoverished rural community. The Americans will not only be teaching, but will also interact with people from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and members of the Chinese community.
“There have been so many moments that have excited me,” Teng said.
“The excitement comes from watching students — children similar to my own — enhance their own experiences and grow their leadership skills. Seeing these results is really exciting for me. It gives me an opportunity, through the students, to benefit others, which is both exciting and very gratifying.
“I’ve been so excited by watching this program grow and branch out into so many directions. Being involved in this endeavor has made me feel more comfortable in a foreign country; it has helped me make the United States my second home,” Teng said.
Being a first-generation immigrant, Teng has been greatly involved in connecting young Chinese Americans to the local community.
She started the InterGenerations project to bring both YBB and C&T students to serve at the Ring House senior center.
“We try to provide opportunities for students to become involved and connect with others so that they want to give back (to the community), so that their motivation comes from inside, not from outside pressure like a schools’ service learning hours requirement,” Teng said.
To Teng, all of C&T’s programs strive to connect students to learning, service, curiosity, and growth, because they are internally driven to explore them.
“The Chinese-American community can really benefit from opening ourselves up to unique experiences,” Teng said.
“Sure, there is comfort in familiarity, but it is really beneficial to expand a family’s experiences and to interact with the whole array of people that live in the US,” Teng said.
“A big part of C&T is to build bridges — especially for Chinese-American families — into the American education system and into other cultural communities. Also, we build bridges between the United States and China. Even in China, we build bridges between the major economic powers and the rural, impoverished communities.” Teng said.
“YBB is building a global cultural and educational super-highway. That is my goal in life,” she said.
Ruyan Teng started C&T Youth Technology Academy in her Rockville, Maryland, home because local schools weren’t offering the courses she wanted for her children.