Thursday, September 1, 2016

German Summer Trip Inspires High School Students

A group of 19 students from Westchester Academy and Stratford High School boarded a plane in June for a four-week exchange adventure in Germany. They were accompanied by German teachers Stanley Stifflemire and Juergen Mueller of Westchester Academy as well as Stratford High School teacher Rachel Crain.

The June 7th trip marked the fifth annual student exchange between SBISD high schools and a partner school, called Gymnasium Ganderkesee, near Bremen. The program began in 2006 when five students from Westchester Academy (WAIS) and Stratford High spent three weeks in the northwestern German city of Ganderkesee.

In just a few weeks, on Sept. 20, the Spring Branch ISD community will welcome 19 students and two teachers from Ganderkesee. Host families will help them experience school and everyday life in the Memorial-Spring Branch community for three weeks.

The goal of the program is to establish friendships and professional relationships between the three schools and to provide international experiences for the participating students as well as for the SBISD community.

The exchange is supported and partly sponsored by GAPP, the German American Partnership Program, which is administered jointly by the national German government, GAPP Inc., and the Goethe-Institute New York.

Funding is provided by the German Foreign Ministry and, in smaller part, by the U.S. government. GAPP exchanges focus on both academics and culture. A student’s integration into the life of the host country – Germany or United States – is the core of the exchange experience. Students from WAIS and Stratford High improve their foreign language skills, meet and live with real German families and learn about modern European life and culture.

District students returned from the trip energized. “I did notice by the end of my stay with my host family I was becoming more active in conversations and my language control was becoming less of a voluntary effort and more of an automatic thing,” said Michael Dyer, a junior at WAIS. “I really loved this experience! Personally, I would have like to have spent a bit more time with the host families since I formed such a bond with my exchange partner.”

Most students were struck by how German teenagers live and are treated in a much more adult manner – at school and home – and how the American and German schooling systems differ in culture and structure. Many students rated their overseas school experiences much higher than at home.

Stratford High senior Ezra Meyer said he was motivated to improve his German language skills this summer, and he was not disappointed.

“My German speaking ability has greatly increased and my understanding of colloquialisms has become fleshed out as well,” he said. “I intend to study German until mastery because I have become fully interested in learning and possibly working or studying in the [German] language.

Modern German life is not all that different from American life, Meyer added. “The only difference is perspective and culture. I was worried about entering a hyper strict society, but I was surprised by a warm, welcoming and curious culture wanting to learn about and improve the world,” he said.

Esther Martinez’s ninth-grade son, Alfonso, attended school in Ganderkesee and also traveled to Hamburg and Berlin with other program students. In Berlin, the students stayed in a youth hostel and visited such storied historical location as the Reichstag, the former Berlin Wall, Potsdam Platz, the Holocaust Memorial, Brandenburg Gate, and the sprawling city park called Tiergarten.

Alfonso is much more independent now, and is looking forward to welcoming a German student into the family soon, his mother said.

“We are very excited to receive the student from Ganderkesee,” Mrs. Martinez said. “My son can’t wait. He has been planning the places where he wants his [exchange] partner to visit and where to take him to eat authentic Mexican and Texas food. I think this program is great for any student who wants to learn the German language and be exposed to the German culture.”

Michael Dyer is the second Dyer son to take part in the GAPP exchange program, said Cornelia Dyer, Michael’s mom. “Each time it has been positive and enriching for our whole family. We love getting to know the German students, and the trips themselves provide a wonderful balance of experiences – living with their Ganderkesee families, attending Gymnasium school, and time for bonding as the Houston group travels and lives together.”

GAPP is the largest high school exchange program between the United States and Germany. Since 1982, more than 200,000 German and American students have participated in the exchanges.

In addition to WAIS and Stratford, Memorial High School has participated in the GAAP program for more than 20 years. Memorial High teacher Susan Sisler has organized that exchange between the local high school and Werner Heisenberg-Gymnasium in Garching, a city in Bavaria.

GAPP exchange program students from WAIS and Stratford High who traveled to Ganderkesee this summer include the following:

Stratford High: Khepri Cano and Valeria Robayo, 10th grade; Juan Carlos Estrada, Aaron Velasco and Gavin Young, 11th grade; and Matthew Hopper, Ernie Kohnke, Ezra Meyer, Noor Rajab, all 12th grade.

Westchester Academy: Alfonso Martinez, 9th grade; Kate Lynn and Nicholas Malek, 10th grade;  and Michael Dyer, Parker Jensen, Rebecca Miller, Rachel Newton, Katalin Stubits-Gallagher and Maria Fernanda Villanueva, all 11th grade.


Post a Comment

Do you have feedback? Tell us.