PENDLETON — The German American Partnership Program (GAPP) is the largest bilateral student exchange program between Germany and the United States, and on Thursday, Aug. 3, the local program coordinator reported to the South Madison Community School Corp. board of trustees on a recent trip to Germany by Pendleton Heights students.
Amy Claxton, a German teacher at Pendleton Heights middle and high schools and GAPP coordinator for the exchange between Pendleton and Munsingen, Germany, showed a video of the sights and sounds students experienced while overseas. She discussed what she said were many benefits of the program, which has been in place for more than a decade.
“The partner schools provide individuals, and the communities to learn about each other,” she said. “This time, when we went over there, we visited their emergency services compound. It’s not just the schools, but it’s really a community partnership.”
Claxton and her husband, Paul, a 20-year school district employee, led the trip with 26 students for two weeks in June. She said a group from Musingen will come to Pendleton in about two months.
“They’ll be here this fall, Oct. 17 through Nov. 2,” she said. “We’ll be showing them around and showing them all about Pendleton.”
In the GAPP program, students stay with host families, lowering the costs of the trip. The program, in existence since the 1970s, also takes advantage of grant money from the U.S. State Department as well as the German Foreign Ministry.
The Pendleton Heights students spent part of the trip learning the differences between German and American schools, including the fact that to go to college, one must pass a graduation exam. Student get one chance and, if they fail that exam, they likely will enter an apprenticeship program and learn a trade.
“Their campus almost runs like a college campus,” Paul Claxton said. “They have a class in the morning, maybe an intensive math class, then they have an hour break.”
The group of students on this trip was larger than in years past. Amy Claxton said only 15 students were on the last trip to Germany in 2015.
“Everything went really smoothly this year,” she said. “I thought with 26 kids we were getting overly ambitious. Getting through with 26 kids and luggage can be difficult, but the kids were really good, especially at the end when we had some really tight connections to make.”
During the trip, the students dined at a beer garden, went on a bike tour and saw many local sights, including churches, the BMW museum, a castle and Dachau concentration camp.
“I’ll never visit a concentration camp without a tour guide again,” Amy Claxton said. “I learned so much, and I think he was just perfect and so knowledgeable.”
Chloe Griffin was one of the local high schoolers on this trip, and she said it was a valuable experience.
“I loved being able to see the different culture and being able to see that we may do things differently in America,” Griffin said. “It was just amazing for me to have that experience.”
School trustee Amy McGinnis said she was happy her daughter, Marleau, was able to enjoy the trip but also was confident in the leadership of the Claxtons for the program.
“I would not have rather sent them with anyone else,” McGinnis said. “I had no worries and felt very lucky.”
In other board business:
• SMCSC approved 17 non-resident students for the 2017-18 school year. Nine are students who have moved out of the district but want to continue their education with SMCSC, while eight are new to the district. Assistant Superintendent Sandra Hudson announced that ninth grade is now closed to transfer students.