Still a student during the 1970s, Doherty Middle School English teacher John Givens recently recalled the "Bamboo Curtain" that was often used to characterize the divide between America and China during the Cold War.

"I think we had ping-pong diplomacy and that was it," said Givens.

A lot has changed in China during the last 35 years, Givens said, including the country's relationship with the United States.

In the spring of 2009, a group of Doherty eighth-graders will spend their April vacation in China.

After just one informational meeting on Dec. 10, five members of the seventh grade and two parents have signed up already for the two-week trip to Beijing, Xi'an and Shanghai, led by Givens and Doherty Middle seventh-grade teacher Tom Keane.

"A combination of the old and the new really led us to believe it would be a fascinating experience for the kids," said Keane, noting that students could learn about China's archeological history and modern changes.

There is a March 31 deadline to sign up for the trip, which is being administered through a Cambridge-based company, EF Educational Tours. Destinations include Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall of China.

Givens and Keane taught classes this fall that were visited by Beijing Principal Biao Wang. Wang, a special guest of Andover Superintendent Claudia Bach for a week in November, is principal of the Beijing Dongfang Decai School.

To create a student and teacher exchange program, Bach will visit Wang's school this spring.

The eighth-grade China trip was planned before Bach announced Wang's visit in October, said Givens and Keane.

"It's nice that it worked out that way, because we can take advantage of some of the connections that are being made," said Givens. "In fact, the seeds of this trip were planted before that."

"It lined up perfectly," Keane said. "Even before we got an e-mail that that principal was coming, we had this planned."

Both Givens and Keane have taken Andover middle school students abroad before.

In 2002, 65 kids went with Givens to Australia and New Zealand. Other trip locations include Costa Rica last April, Scandinavia in 2003 and Germany and Austria in 2002.

"I know that a number of students have come back in past trips and they're interested in the world," said Givens. "You never know what it is that's going to spark an interest and where that's going to carry them. ... Students are going to become aware that the world is a big place. There are many types of people and many ways to live. I think they become better world citizens."

In preparation of the trip, students who have registered are taking a once-a-week elective. During the elective class, students will learn about trip planning and background information on China, listen to speakers and learn the basics of the Chinese language. A once-a-week Chinese language elective is available to students.

Givens said the group will take practice trips, including a visit to Chinatown in Boston.

"Might as well try dim sum in Chinatown before you're half-way around the world," said Givens. "There's a lot of preparation that goes on ahead of time. I would say the preparation is the essential part."

Keane said he was hired at an international school in China about 10 years ago before deciding to come work at Doherty Middle.

"We tell them that when you're out there, it's going to be an adventure," he said. "We tell them it's an adventure and it's not Andover. They're going to see different things and meet new people."

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