GSA Head of School Tim Seeley (second from left) enjoys a moment of levity with the other judges on “Star of Outlook.” Filmed in Beijing, the show will be broadcast in October. PHOTO COURTESY OF GEORGE STEVENS ACADEMY

GSA’s Seeley judges English contest in China

By Mark Messer

Special to The Ellsworth American

BLUE HILL — Though school is not in session in summer, administrators and staff are still busy preparing for the upcoming school year. Even so, there’s usually a chance to get away, and George Stevens Academy’s head of school has quite a tale to tell about a trip he took in July.

Some details, though, are under wraps until the fall broadcast of what Tim Seeley called “a popular game show, the heart of which is school.”

“Star of Outlook,” a CCTV English competition in its 20th year, saw 7 million hopefuls across China compete for spots in a nine-episode contest to be televised in October to an anticipated audience of 100 million. Seeley was one of five educators to judge the competition.

Fifty participants in six age groups reached the final rounds on the CCTV campus in Beijing, where they competed for the chance to make presentations in English. They were judged on the quality of their presentations and their spoken English.

“The young kids were amazing, and their English was incredible,” said Seeley, explaining that children as young as 6 were not at a disadvantage competing against participants as old as 29. They all made presentations on topics appropriate for their age, whether Pikachu or the importance of scientific inquiry. Those who did best moved on to the finals, from which one ultimate winner was selected. The top prize? A school or college recommendation letter from one of the judges.

In addition to Seeley, representatives from Stanford University, the University of Bath, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and St. Bees School, a 7-12 school in England, determined which competitor had what it took to be named “Star of Outlook.”

So, how did the head of school from a small town academy in Maine find himself on stage and in the spotlight in Beijing? A consultant who helps GSA attract applicants to its boarding program told one of the directors about Seeley and recommended him for the unpaid gig for which all expenses were paid by producers.

The experience was “amazing” for Seeley, who was on set for 12-hour days for about a week. He was struck by “the great friendliness, generosity and good humor” of the people he met, and how “deeply serious” the students are. Of course, “they surpassed millions of their peers” to get there.

Seeley is grateful for the experience, but he also hopes the exposure in China will get more students to check out GSA and its “challenging and comprehensive academic and experiential programming, much of which is rooted in the human, cultural, and natural resources of our Blue Hill Peninsula community.”

After links to the episodes are provided to Seeley in the fall, GSA will share them so anyone interested can find out what it takes to be the “Star of Outlook.”

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