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Learning via high school exchange program

Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School is celebrating 20 years of student exchanges with its twin school in Mulhouse, France Ecole Jeanne D’Arc.

Jeanne D’Arc School is located in the city of Mulhouse in the Alsace region of France near the Swiss city of Basel and the German border.

Lindsay Thurber High School is one of the few schools in Canada to enjoy such a long-term relationship with a twin school, particularly with one in France.

Rob Porkka and Clem Hebert who were teachers at Lindsay Thurber founded this exchange program in 1992-1993. The continued success of the program can be accredited to the program leader Carl Malenfant who is a French Immersion teacher at Lindsay Thurber.

“The first aim of the exchange is to improve (the French students’) English and the Canadian students’ French,” said Robert Gaessler, one of the French instructors who came to Canada.

Dallin Higham, 16, a Grade 11 student at Lindsay Thurber and his exchange partner Nicola Vojt, 16 are both excited to be taking part in this program. Both students said that they are most looking forward to immersing themselves in a new language and a new culture.

After 20 years there have been close to 900 students that have participated in the exchange and have had the opportunity to be immersed in a culture different from their own. Every two years a total of 90 students from Canada and France have the opportunity to participate in this program.

This year students from France are in Canada from May 15 to 27. They will spend time living with Canadian families while exploring Canadian school life.

The exchange students will get to experience what Red Deer and Alberta have to offer. The students from France arrived in Canada and went to Banff before making their way to Red Deer.

For students in both Canada and France this trip is a once in a lifetime opportunity and there are an overwhelming number of applicants for the trip.

For this year’s exchange Jeanne D’Arc School had more than 120 qualified students apply. According to Gaessler the selection process was simple but fair—names were drawn out of a hat.

Porkka from Lindsay Thurber said that the selection process here in Canada was the same; 45 names of qualified students were selected out of the hat.

In order to be eligible students must be in French Immersion or French as a second language. Lindsay Thurber has more than 300 students in its French Immersion and French as a second language programs. There are more than 1,000 students enrolled in French Immersion in Red Deer public schools.

Gaessler said that his students were most looking forward to meeting their partners in person. For the past six months the students have been using social media to connect with their overseas partners. Porkka said that social media has changed the way this exchange program works.

“It has gotten a lot easier to plan over the years because originally it was done by telephone and that was expensive, then there was fax or regular snail mail, and now it is instantaneous by Skype or by email or facebook.”

Higham and Vojt had been using social media to get to know each other before they met face to face. When they interact online they would each speak in their second language. Higham speaks French and Vojt speaks English. They find that this really helps improve their language skills.

Lindsay Thurber offers a variety of languages to students beyond just French. Porkka would like to see more exchange programs be initiated based on the model of this exchange program.

treid@reddeerexpress.com