The first group of German exchange students from Schiller-Gymnasium visit South Burlington in 1974. 

Student Exchanges at SBHS Celebrate Forty Years

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Thursday September 18, 2014

This October South Burlington schools will be celebrating an exciting anniversary of 40 years of student exchanges with the Schiller-Gymnasium (high school) in Hamelin, Germany.

Timothy Kahn, who became the World Language department chair in 1973, introduced the initiative for an exchange program at SBHS. Kahn felt that the best way to motivate students to learn another language was through an opportunity to meet the people who speak it, and to immerse themselves in their culture. A direct student exchange seemed to provide the best platform for such an encounter: a group of students from a foreign country would stay with host families in South Burlington, attend classes at the high school, share aspects of their culture through presentations, and participate in excursions throughout Vermont. The American students would then visit their former guests abroad.

The connection with the Schiller-Gymnasium was established through CIEE (Council for International Education and Exchange). The SBHS German teacher, Bertha Beardsley, Principal Bruce Ladeau and Superintendent Frederick Tuttle were in full support of the idea, and in March of 1974, the first group of 19 German students arrived with their chaperones Ewald und Käthe Hofer. This first visit exceeded everyone’s expectations because the chemistry between the students and teachers on both sides was immediate. Ewald Hofer and Tim Kahn shared a strong belief in international education and the vision that true intercultural understanding is best brought about by students spending time with each other in each other’s countries, living in each other’s families, and experiencing school life abroad. A second group of 19 South Burlington students went to Hamelin the following summer with their chaperons Don and Perky Maddox and received a tremendous welcome.

Since 1974, every two years a group of 20 German students and 2 teachers has come to stay with SBHS host families for a period of about two weeks. They also visit New York City and Washington D.C. The American counterpart visit takes place in late February/early March. The groups spend time in Munich and Berlin as well as at the Schiller-Gymnasium in Hamelin. Starting in 1978, and for a period of 25 years following, the Schiller-Gymnasium alternated their visits between Burlington and South Burlington high schools.

In 1976, Robert Schermer came to SBHS as a German teacher. Under his guidance, the German exchange continued to thrive and developed into the TIE program (The International Experience). The program expanded to include exchanges with France (1983 to present), Russia (1991 and 1993), Costa Rica (1993 to 2003), Japan (2000 to present), and Spain (2004 to present).

Currently 22 students from Salamanca, Spain are staying with South Burlington families. The school alternates exchanges with France and Japan one year and Spain and Germany the following year.

One of the most important premises of TIE has always been to give as many students and educators as possible a chance to participate in and benefit from the program. The primary beneficiaries are the students, families, and teachers who host the guests, and then travel abroad to experience life in another country. However, the foreign exchange students visit classes in all departments of the high school and the middle and elementary schools during their stay in South Burlington. Many kids were inspired to learn another language because they were able to meet and interact with an exchange student while they were in the lower grades. The experience and insights gained by students traveling abroad are enormous. Former students note that the exchange stands out as one of their favorite high school memories. Numerous cross-Atlantic friendships are formed, and former exchange “siblings” continue to visit each other’s families well into adulthood. Over the years, close to 400 South Burlington students have participated in the German exchange alone.

Teacher chaperones have come from all departments at the high school and the middle school, including Guidance staff and school nurses. Principals Bruce Ladeau, Donna Moyer, Patrick Burke, and Karsten Schlenter (FHTMS) chaperoned groups to Hamelin and Principal Peter Pauksch of Germany has visited South Burlington twice.