At first, San Diego school officials hoped there would be enough volunteers leaving one school for another to achieve better integration ratios at all schools. As often happens, the minority children were more likely to volunteer, and segregation was continuing.
This spurred a new plan -- the pairing of a predominantly all-white school on one side of town with a predominantly black or Hispanic school on the other. In this plan, a small number of students leave their "home" school to spend a portion of their school day in the "other" school.
Here's how it works: Two equal groups from each of the paired schools combine to form one class, but with two teachers, one from each school. For two weeks this class meets for two hours at one school and for the next two weeks they meet at the other location. Each student group travels with its teacher.
Together the two teachers either do a team teaching project with the whole group, or the large group is divided into two smaller ones, each being a racial mix. An important factor in designing the exchange is to have the two school groups fairly balanced academically.
For a student to spend what amounts to one hour travel time during half of his school days, incentives must be very strong. According to Curtis Hall, a junior high student who travels with 39 others, the motivation is simple. "We get to see another school and different surroundings." That, for him, is enough.
Truth to tell, however, more behind-the-scenes advantages support the program. The student-to-teacher ratio is cut down, sometimes to 1 to 14 so that each student receives more teacher attention. Special funding for this program allows for field trips and consultants and speakers who are not generally available to every classroom. A richer course offering and more out-of-the-ordinary classroom activities result.
The three-hour block of time every morning (two hours class, one hour travel) allows for great flexibility in holding class at locations throughout the city since a bus is made available every day.
Together, as a heterogeneous group, they travel to the courthouse, for example, where their perceptions of the day's proceedings are enlarged by seeing the reactions of their counterparts as well as their own neighborhood classmates.
One of the first experiences at an urban exchange program at the high-school level was that each class took a tour of the paired neighborhood with the route prepared and narrated by their exchange counterparts.
A new experience for most of the students, this cleared up many misconceptions held about opposite parts of town. Cultures were shared by looking at stores and entertainment facilities. New awareness and concerns about the larger community were generated, some of which centered on dangerous traffic patterns, upkeep of roads, and graffiti on buildings.
Since each student is both guest and host, he is more apt to be congenial and to hold a welcoming attitude. He looks for this same reception at the exchange school. According to Elaine Moore, exchange teacher in a junior high program. "The important thing is that the exchange goes both ways. Both sides make an effort and see their counterparts doing the same."
Although such exchanges are designed with almost any subject courses, it is natural that the most success comes from classes where there is a greater degree of human interaction. For this purpose, one exchange program in San Diego involves a speech and drama class that is combined with an English class to cover the two class hours.
Drama is a natural setting for role playing, an activity that gets these students to interact. Since theater games are designed to generate sensitive and responsive reactions to others, much success has been found using them in this program. A particularly successful theater game in this exchange classroom has been "the machine."
In this favorite, each student combines his body, movement, and voice with those of other students to create together a working, moving "machine" with legs akimbo, arms lifting and crossing, and knees bending, each person timing his movements with others while representing a contributing moving part to "the machine."
The strike of genius in this exchange class, however, was the selection of the spring play to be performed at both schools before each student body. "Cheaper by the Dozen" is a story of a large, free-swinging family of 12 children. The kicker is that in this particular version, the family is integrated.