ADAMS — As the South Jefferson Central School District enters its 35th year in the German American Partnership Program, teachers and administrators are praising the program for the benefits it brings to students.
The program, which facilitates a month of travel for district students and their counterparts in Emden, Germany, has been in place in the district since 1977.
South Jefferson students have been traveling to Emden, a coastal town in the northwestern part of Germany near its border with the Netherlands, since 1981.
Krista E.B. Juczak, the high school’s German and Spanish teacher, said the program has helped to encourage students to take a more active role in learning German and helped them to develop strong relationships.
“You get to know them so much better,” Ms. Juczak said.
There probably are few who can attest to the connections that result from the program better than Pamela E. Thomas, coordinator of work-based learning programs for Jefferson-Lewis-Hamilton-Herkimer-Oneida BOCES and a member of the district’s Board of Education.
While Mrs. Thomas was in high school in 1989, her family hosted a German student to make up for not allowing her to travel to Germany the previous year because of the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Mrs. Thomas said that after a month hosting Silke Hennersdorf, the two developed a lifelong friendship. Ms. Hennersdorf visited Mrs. Thomas at college two years later, and the two still keep in touch today.
“We’re still on Facebook together,” Mrs. Thomas said.
Now a host of one of the German students, she said the experience has been a positive one for her and her children.
“They’re learning a lot ... they’re asking questions,” Mrs. Thomas said. In addition to questions about German culture and holidays, she said her kids have asked about German slang, such as how to say phrases like “shut up.”
“Unfortunately for them, I know German,” Mrs. Thomas said.
For the past three weeks, 14 German students have taken in American sights such as Watertown and Fort Drum, and popular tourist spots like Niagara Falls and New York City. On Friday, the female members of the group were taken to BOCES in Watertown, where they were given spa treatments by vocational students in the cosmetology program.
The German students are being housed by 12 families.
“We have people stepping up to the plate all the time,” said Karen A. Denny, high school principal.
Stephan Borchers, a teacher of English, history and drama in Germany, said the program was successful because of the range of activities offered.
Angelica Prekel, one of the German organizers, said students were drawn by the longer trip time compared with other exchanges and by America’s reputation.
“For a lot of the students, America is a very special place in your mind,” Ms. Prekel said.
Ms. Prekel said the improvement of participating students’ English was evident in their tone and vocabulary.
Hanna Wiltfang, 16, said her favorite experience was seeing New York City.
Tom Blendermann, 15, said he enjoyed doing arts and crafts projects and bike riding with his host family. Asked what he thought the biggest difference was in the schools, he pointed to sports. At home, he said, most sports activities are done in area club teams.
While the Belleville Henderson Central School District, Belleville, had begun participating in the program in 1979, it has not been a part of the exchange since the retirement of longtime German teacher Carl A. Bingle, who added French to his duties in 1984-85.
With his retirement, Belleville Henderson shifted its languages to Spanish and French.
The German students, who have been in the north country for about three weeks, will head home on Friday.