NEWTOWN SQUARE–Marking its fifth year participating in a German exchange program, the Marple Newtown School District played host again to another group–specifically 15–of German students for three weeks.
On Tuesday evening, the German company SAP America in Newtown Square helped welcome the recently landed students with a dinner reception for the students and their Marple Newtown host families.
The program began about five years ago when Superintendent Merle Horowitz met Richard Knowles, the senior vice president of SAP North America operations, a key player in assisting with the program.
"I was part of a Spanish sponsorship exchange program with my daughter and thought I'd really like to foster that kind of program here," explained Horowitz at the dinner reception. "I'm proud that this occurred. It's one of the finest programs I could work on as superintendent in the Marple Newtown School District."
According to Heidi Eller-Engelhard, a chaperone for the German students on the program, the 15 students–ranging from ages 15-17–from Kaiserpfalz Realschule Ingelheim Plus school of Ingelheim, Germany, were chosen through an application and interview process. A popular program for many students, Eller-Engelhard said one year, they received 90 applicants for the exchange program.
"The students enjoy this heartily," said Eller-Engelhard. "We'd like to continue this exchange and come back."
Sabrina Reich, the principal of the German school also shared, "We love being here and treasure our friendship and generosity and hope to continue with this exchange program."
But the German program, running in possibly its last year in the district, which was slated to be cut for the current school year was saved for another year. The night was bittersweet for many students and families hosting.
"We're very sad," said Jane Brasko Kelly, the mother of Paxon Hollow Middle School eighth grader Ben, a German III student. The first year hosting a student, Kelly said, "It's really bittersweet that this could be the last year, but we're looking for outside support. We're just thankful that we could participate this year."
The exchange program was one of the key factors in motivating her son to take the German language program in sixth grade. "He's been saving since the sixth grade to go abroad as an exchange student," said Kelly. But, Kelly was hopeful with the future of the program, "We're not giving up. We're going to do whatever we can do to get through this."
In the meantime, Kelly will have her hands full playing mom to two teenage boys. Kelly, excited to host her new German son, Peter Budjan, 14, for several weeks, has already got down Peter's favorite American dish: french fries.
Emily Greene, 17, a senior this year at Marple Newtown, is hosting for the second year in a row. Greene had the opportunity to go abroad over the summer and stayed with the family of the student she hosted last year. "It was amazing, fantastic," she said about her experiences abroad.
Though she mentioned she was "upset" that the program may possibly terminate next year, Greene was grateful to have experienced both being a host and an exchange student. This year, Greene is looking forward to hosting Svenja Pfeiffer, 14, and taking her to several places such as the Bates Motel, Dorney Park and Ocean City, NJ.
Jake Deacon, 16, a junior and a German IV student, also went abraod this summer to Germany and is also sponsoring a student for the second year.
"I like meeting new people and seeing how they react to kids in America," responded Deacon to why he enjoyed hosting an exchange student. Despite different nationalities, Deacon said the German teens are "relatively the same" as American teens with a few differences–particularly in transportation as well as in having "more freedom with social lives."
Deacon's mother Anna, also the public relations officer for the district, stated this time around, they'll be hosting two students–one girl and one boy this year. "He [Jake] built these lifelong friendships with the students," said Anna about hosting again. "I think this is leading him to study abroad someday. It's also really good for my other children to see and experience other cultures. They speak in German a lot so that's helped a lot with his German."
The 16-year-old exchange student staying with the Deacons this year is Quide Ye, who has been taking English for six years and began learning in fifth grade, said he would like to take this opportunity "to learn how to live like an American."
Like Ye and the other German exchange students, one of their top priorities while living in the United States is to see, what else, but the lights of New York City.
Carmen Bilc, a fourth-year teacher for the German program in the district, shared the importance of the program was not only about learning the language and culture but the crux of the program is really "to teach children about acceptance."
"This program literally touches the lives of these students," said Bilc. "In three weeks, it has a huge impact. This is the value: the fact that it takes these students at such a young age to shape them up as people and with other cultures...it's teaching out children about other cultures and acceptance."
Though it may be the end of the German program for the district, Horowitz was hopeful in that it may be the beginning of other opportunities.
"The German program was a precursor to other programs," said Horowitz. "A Spanish exchange program will come into fruition in the next year."
Horowitz expressed her gratitude for SAP embracing the program and providing a welcome and farewell reception for the students and families as well as for the families hosting. Bilc and Reich also shared gifts on behalf of each participating party. Bilc presented Reich with a Marple Newtown stuffed Tiger in full school spirit gear to represent the school's pride.