Off to a new school in a new land -- at 11!

This international school-to-school experience is as different as can be. The pupils who exchange school places and home visits are only 11 years old. There are several reasons for using children who are so young, explains the founder of ISSE (International School-to-school Experience), Doris Allen:

* Because adult society (and attitudes) emerge from the experiences of childhood.

* BEcause child programs lay the foundation stones on which adult structures can be more securely built.

* Because 11-year-olds pick up a language quickly and have little difficulty adjusting to a radically different culture.

* Because one purpose of ISSE is to develop a world point of view early enough to color the maturing point of view.

In January 1976 an elementary school in Berea, Ky., was host to one adult and four children from Garside in Mexico. Each Mexican child lived in a home in Berea with a child of the same age and sex and went to school with him/her for the month.

The adult, probably a teacher from Garside, lived in a faith home working out details for the visit to Mexico in March by the Berea group.

And all five Mexicans, four children and one adult, met with classes, talked at assemblies, were featured at PTA meetings, helped out with Spanish classes, and so forth.

Then in March one teacher and six Berea children went to Garside where each one lived in a home with a child the same age and sex. attending school with their host/hostess, and visiting other classes and homes as possible.

Stanwood Kenyon, a teacher at Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, is the executive secretary of ISSE, and explains why the program has had such a gradual growth rate:

"Even the most internationally minded and able of teachers have generally not had prior experience with children this young being the visitors. It takes time and effort for the host school coordinator to work closely with the adult who accompanies the visiting team, and with the teachers whose classrooms will be visited, to get the maximum benefit and satisfaction from these visits."

As those who deal with international exchange programs consistently assert, an enormous amount of preparatory (and then follow-up) work must be done in order to have something tangible happen, something deeper than merely noting the superficiality of an alien culture.

Of course, funds are a constant problem for both hosts and visitors. Generally, the host families volunteer their homes (full room and board), and when parents can't pay the full transportation costs, both schools and fund-raising events help out.

Not all exchanges have included the US. In 1975, a group from a Montessori school in India visited a Mexican school, and in 1977, the same Mexican school sent a new team of seven to Berea.

In April, two new schools (new to ISSE) will begin an exchange. A group from the Graham School District in St. Paris, Ohio, will host a group of children from Goteborg, Sweden. Also sometime this spring, the Willits Elementary School in Syosset, N.Y., will send an ISSE team to Fort Fraser Elementary School in F ort Fraser, British Columbia.

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