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FHS starts German 'sister school' program

A letter writing project that started last week could lead to the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Students in Cheryl Wason's German classes wrote letters to students at Farmington High School's new sister school, Gerschwister Scholl (school) in Bensheim, Germany.

The sister school project was launched over the summer, Wason said. It started, in part, when a group of FHS students and a handful of chaperones took the program's bi-annual trip to Germany.

FHS German students have been taking the trip since about 1976, Wason said. When the group travels abroad, they all stay with host families in the town of Einhausen.

"So really, they have a long history of housing Minnesota students," Wason said.

When it came time to looking for a sister school to do an exchange, Wason could not make the connection at Einhausen because the community does not have a high school.

Instead, through a program called German American Partnership Program, Wason was connected with Bersheim. The school is about the same size as FHS and has a similar student population. Unlike some German campuses, all of the students are housed in one building.

The two schools signed contracts in the late part of last spring. Now into the next school year, and about a year and a half from the next trip to Germany in 2013, local students have started making connections with their siblings overseas.

Last week, about 55 students from Farmington kicked off a letter writing campaign. The group had to write their letters the old fashioned way because Wason believes a handwritten letter is more cordial and more inviting than a simple email. As the project moves ahead, emails will be used more.

Wason encouraged students to tell a little bit about themselves, to talk about Farmington and the high school, to say what types of activities they like to participate in and to talk about hobbies.

"I have a feeling, as this grows, they'll be sharing more things," Wason said.

The partnership is being integrated as part of Wason's classroom instruction. Not every student in her classes will go to Germany next year, but quite a few will. And a few of them are already excited for the opportunity.

"I'm interested in the whole cultural aspect. The language, how they do things. I think it will be a really cool experience," said freshman Andrew Gorter.

Freshman Sarah Borntrager and her family lived in Germany when she was a child, and her family is currently hosting an exchange student from Germany. She's excited to return to the area as a teen, when she can better appreciate her surroundings. She's hoping to get to her old community and visit some old neighbors. But she's got one more incentive, too.

"They've got good chocolate," she said. "I'm really excited for that."

Whatever the reason for her students' interest, Wason thinks the partnership will achieve some fundamental goals. GAPP is an exchange program that gives students the chance to learn about the German culture and study the language while in Germany. And, in return, local families will host German student so they can learn English and study the American culture.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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