Newton high schoolers recently enjoyed participating in an exchange program with German students. The school's German American Partnership Program (GAPP) was founded in 2007 by Newton's former German teacher Petra Hannig-Eisenberger with a mission to “foster understanding between German and American young people, to be able to speak the language in the country."
The German school that does the exchange with Newton High School is Heimschule St. Landolin, which is in Ettenheim in Germany. Hannig-Eisenberg attended that high school in Germany as a teen.
Unfortunately, her German teaching position was cut this year due to the economic budget shortfall Newton schools experienced last May. Therefore, Jim Hofmann, Mandy Hofmann and German Ruedabaquero coordinated this year's exchange. German students arrived in Newton on Oct. 11 and stayed until Nov. 1. During the second week, they went on trips to New York City and Washington, D.C. Each year the students stay with American host families, and shadow their host brother/sister as they go about their normal day-to-day school activities.
During the summer, Newton students have a chance to experience German culture, accompanied by English teachers Mirjam Gronback, Philipp Drechsler, and Jim Hoffman who served as Hannig's assistant during the last 12 exchanges. In southern Germany, students are still in school in June until mid July. That's when 10 to 15 Newton students visit Deutschland, said James Hofmann, German Club Adviser and Teacher of Technology.
Differences that the students and teachers noticed? In Germany, rather than having the same set nine periods, the subjects vary from day to day. In addition, classes like agriculture, home economics and digital imaging are not offered as a rule, according to Hofmann. Germany’s education system is different and as early as 10 years old, students are separated into different schools based on academic ability. In Germany, rather than students moving from class to class when the bell rings, teachers move to different classrooms. Another difference is the wide variety of social endeavors offered by high schools in the United States. There’s so much going on socially with the sheer number of sporting events.
Among the differences noted by the German youth were "In America, the schedule is repeated daily while ours repeats itself every week. Also, some of the subjects we do not have in Germany, e.g. FFA florals, photography, future farmers of America, cooking... a lot of them would actually be extracurricular activities and not normal subjects in Germany."
Funding is one of the challenges facing Newton students who'd like to be a part of the German exchange, they said.
This year, in early October the GAPP exchange kicked off with a welcome barbecue held that first Sunday after their arrival. German exchange host student Luke Bandel enlisted his parents Melissa & Ken to open up their home and yard to host the potluck style gathering. A grand banquet unfolded as everyone began to relax under a perfect fall sun warmed blue sky.
On Sunday Oct. 20, Hofmann was invited to a small cocktail party at a home in Fredon, where Governor Phil Murphy stopped in to make a 30-minute impassioned speech that covered his time as U.S. Ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013. He made mention that New Jersey's student cultural exchange programs are invaluable.
"I had the opportunity to shake his hand and I told him about the Newton, Ettenheim cultural exchange here at NHS," Hoffman said.
What most surprised the German visitors? Whereas in Germany Greta is a usual topic of conversation, here in the United States "some people do not seem to care much about climate change. Also, they waste a lot of plastic and electricity."
What were the German students most impressed by? Host families' friendliness, students' school spirit, and the sense of belonging within the school. Hoffman said the German students noticed a "strong feeling of community was impressive....Further, people here are nice and always smiling."
The German students visited English II classes to discuss the traditions of the Black Forest, "the area of Germany in which they reside," said Auriela Selimi NHS English Teacher, Student Council Co-Adviser. "My students used this information to compare the superstitions believed by the Puritans during the Salem witch trials as we read The Crucible. We also conversed about American traditions with Halloween and German traditions with their holiday, Fasent. The German students also shared insight about... European Union with the students enrolled in an online German program at NHS as we celebrated a mini Oktoberfest."
She noted the world seems much smaller when realizing that handshakes, that good food, music, and free time are enjoyed the world over.