It was culture shock — but in a fun way — when 19 children and four adults from The Warriner School in Bloxham, England, visited Stone Middle School last month.
AS PART of a long-distance learning project, the students had already been corresponding via the Internet for a long time. And finally, they got to come to America with their headmaster, Peter Norman, and deputy head teacher, Diana Dennison.
And although some things — such as waffles for breakfast and hardly any time outdoors during the school day — took some getting used to, overall, they enjoyed their week-long stay.
Besides attending classes at Stone, they took a trip to Williamsburg/Jamestown, visited the White House and the Pentagon, attended Westfield High's pep rally and Homecoming football game and even rode in an English Triumph in Westfield's parade.
"The people in America are more welcoming and friendly than we are," said Harrison Foster, 12. "It is very marked," added Norman. "I think American people are more enthusiastic, open and demonstrative, whereas the British are much more reserved."
About 100 miles west of London, The Warriner school is in the center of a large, rural community composed of many villages. It has 1,112 students and, rated the top rural school in England last year, it received an award from Prince Charles.
"It's a very popular school," said Dennison. "Parents have a right to choose the school of their choice. But that's also determined by the amount of space in the school, and that's managed by the local Educational Authority for the county of Oxfordshire."
So, said Norman, "The government is talking about allowing the more popular schools to expand and increase their size. But at the moment, there's no money for that.
DENNISON SAID their U.S. trip was a "huge opportunity." Besides teaching, she's second in charge at The Warriner and also develops its curriculum. So she was pleased to discuss Stone's curriculum with its faculty and was fascinated to see how it's structured.
The visiting students were ages 11-16 and in grades five through 11. At Stone, said Dennison, "There's an element of choice — such as taking media studies — with the children here at an earlier age. And the school has a positive atmosphere and good learning environment."
At The Warriner, said Norman, "Civics, which we call 'citizenship,' is about local and national democratic policies and procedures and how people can get involved." Dennison said they stress "personal responsibility — taking your place in the community."
They also have religious studies and, said Norman, "We have a legal requirement for a daily collective act of worship of a broadly Christian nature." Children study the major world religions, and older students take philosophy and ethics courses, investigating, for example, medical ethics, social morality and equality, plus peace and justice — each from a different world religion's eyes.
"And because we're a semi-rural school, we have a school farm," said Norman. "We teach agricultural and rural crafts, such as animal husbandry, land management and horticulture."
In addition, said Dennison, "All children have to take design and technology — engineering, electronics and graphic design — food technology and textiles technology" dealing with resistant materials like wood and metals.
There are also differences in the school day. The Warriner students have a 20-minute break at 11 a.m. and 45 minutes for lunch. "And they can wander wherever they want in the school — that's a big difference," said Norman. "Students can get some fresh air and collect themselves," said Dennison.
Stone's classes run from 7:55 a.m.-2:55 p.m., but Warriner goes from 8:55 a.m.-3:20 p.m. "But their school year is 12 days more than ours," said Stone Principal Ken Gaudreault. "Stone's is 183 days and theirs is 195 days — more like a year-'round continuum with breaks. We have four quarters and they have six terms of six weeks each." However, added Dennison, "We have five buildings on campus, so students get some air and light on their way to their [various] classes."
Grade levels are also different. For example, Harrison Foster would be a seventh-grader at Stone, but at Warriner he's in year eight — signifying his eighth year of learning. He and students Belinda Speich, 13, and Emily Cartwright, 14, noted some other differences, as well.
"IT SEEMS really weird because, here, you put everything in a locker and keep going back to it," said Belinda. "In England, we carry all our books everywhere; you just have to change shoulders."
"But we do have lockers for spare and heavy books and cooking equipment," said Emily. They noted that, here, students read the morning announcements on TV. In England, said Belinda, a teacher reads them from a sheet of paper.
"And there's no Pledge of Allegiance," she said. "We just have to mark everyone's name on the register. And in year nine, we have assemblies every Wednesday." She said topics ranged from turtles to Christianity. And, added Emily, "One day, we brought in pancakes and had races with frying pans."
"It fit in with a religious festival called Shrove Tuesday," explained Norman. "And using all the fats before Lent," said Dennison.
Harrison said Stone seemed smaller than his school, and "you don't have as much free time between classes. Here, you do your two lessons, and you'd be expecting to go outside — but you have four classes before lunch."
Emily and Belinda noticed that Stone students have classes for things such as journalism and band practice. But Warriner students have orchestra and choir at lunchtime. "And they can choose two extra lessons [electives] here, but we don't," said Emily. "For example, if some people don't like art, they could do something else."
Belinda said Americans drive bigger cars than the English but, said Norman, "Gas is so cheap here. We pay $6 a gallon." American eating habits also took them by surprise.
"The food is double the size of everything we have," said Harrison. "I ordered a small Coke and it was this big. And we went to a pizza shop and the slices were massive." He also was less than thrilled that, although he dislikes root beer, the family he stayed with here was "crazy about it."
Emily discovered she doesn't like Reese's Pieces and, though Belinda bravely ate waffles with maple syrup for breakfast one day, she pronounced the whole experience "quite weird." In England, explained Emily, "We have cereal, juice and toast for breakfast." Added Norman: "Waffles would be a dessert after supper."
They also learned that, at Stone, boys and girls have P.E. classes together. "It came as a shock to us," said Belinda.
"In our school, boys do soccer, rugby and cricket," said Emily. "Girls do field hockey, swimming, gymnastics and net ball. It's like basketball, but you can't run with it or dribble; you pass it." She also noted that, "You have 60 people in gym here and two teachers." In England, said Norman, it would be 30 students and one teacher.
Furthermore, said Emily, there really is something to be said for the value of fresh air and sunshine. "I've only been outside for P.E. here once," she said. "I feel like a mole."
REMARKING THAT, in America, there are elementary, middle and high schools, in England, said Harrison, "We have primary and secondary schools. Primary is for years one through six and ages 5-11, and secondary is for years seven through 13 and ages 11-19."
Emily observed that school buses here are yellow, but English schools have their own charter buses, chartered by the Educational Authority. "And they're used for different purposes during the day, instead of just sitting," added Dennison."
Warriner students also apparently take cool field trips. "We went to Switzerland and France for seven days with the school orchestra," said Emily. But, acknowledged Dennison, "That was for a special performance."
And when it comes to school sports teams, said Harrison, "We don't have to have tryouts. Even if you don't make the team, you can still be part of it." Added Emily: "It doesn't matter how good you are; you can still go."
Here in America, said Harrison, "You can't play unless you're good. In England, as long as you're committed, you can play."
He also believes that "the adults here are more get-up-and-go than our parents." For example, he said, he and his host family were discussing Halloween, and they immediately "took us to another home to do ghosting" (trick or treating).
Emily observed that "not as many people smoke here" as in England. But perhaps Harrison hit on the biggest difference of all between kids here and there. "People our age don't really bother with video games," he said. "Just the younger kids do."