Ryan Sweet thought the host family house he stayed in was built in the 15th century. Colleen Wilson estimated her house dated back 200 years. The two Stone Middle School students, though, were not part of a time travel experiment.
Instead they were among 17 students who flew across the Atlantic in April to stay with students in England.
The week-long trip was part of an exchange program the school started with the Warriner School in Oxfordshire, England. In the fall, 19 students from the Warriner School visited Stone.
Stone Principal Ken Gaudreault helped set up the exchange and said, “The students received a bond and relationship with young people that will last a lifetime.”
THE STUDENTS stayed with host families during the program. They arrived on a Saturday and planned activities began on Monday. For two days, they attended classes at the school. The school, located about 100 miles west of London, is self- sustaining and grows its own food on a 40-acre farm.
At Warriner, students must walk from building to building to attend different classes like on a college campus. “The class atmosphere seemed more relaxed and they wore uniforms,” said eighth-grader Wilson of the learning environment.
The Stone students also went sightseeing across England for three days. Some of the highlights included visiting the House of Parliament, Oxford University, Warwick Castle, Shakespeare’s birthplace, and The Tower of London.
On their visit, the Stone students noted many differences. Sweet, an eighth-grader, observed that the Warriner students responded to their arrival differently than his classmates at Stone. “When we got to their school, the people weren’t as curious and they just walked past us,” he said. “But when they came to our school, people asked them more questions.”
While staying with her host family, Wilson noted differences in the homes. “Their houses were cool because they were about 200 years old,” she said. “They had to get a permit just to change them because they were so old.”
Eric Alter, another eighth-grader, said of his host family, "They did not eat out and they never ate fast food like we do."
He noticed similarities as well. “They went bowling and to the movies like us,” he said. “Also, a lot of the stores and restaurants would have different names but they sold the same things."
He said he was surprised to see brand names such as Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch in some stores.
The students all had their favorite spot in England. Sweet said he enjoyed visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral the most. “It was so much different than churches we have here,” he said. “It was so much more elegant and sophisticated.”
Alter enjoyed socializing with the Warriner students, but also had fun on the sightseeing part of the trip. "I liked Warwick Castle just because there was so much history there," he said.
The three students believe the exchange program helped them become more cultured about the world. Wilson said that she still emails with the students she met at Warriner on a regular basis.
“I have built a lifelong friendship from this,” Sweet said.
STONE HEAD librarian and distance learning coordinator Jim Hensley helped Gaudreault set up the exchange and traveled to England with the students. Said Hensley, “It was a great educational experience for them.”
“Second, they learned about another country’s form of government, “ he added. “It gave them a broader experience than they would have just sitting in class over here.”
The PTA and outside companies offset some of the teacher expenses for the trip. Parent chaperones and students paid their own way.
Hensley said, “One thing that made the trip a little difficult was the terrorist bombings in London.” Fairfax County put an end to overseas fieldtrips and this forced the school to seek outside funding. Said Gaudreault: “It all had to be done from outside by parents and we had to be separated from the school.”
ACCORDING TO Hensley, the first step in setting up the exchange was a meeting with Peter Norman, headmaster of the Warriner School. Said Hensley, “After Ken, Peter, and I visited the campus the teachers hooked up. We committed one of our classrooms to videoconferencing.”
They taught joint lessons in science and civics. Hensley said that one of the first civics lessons dealt with the differences in government between the two countries. One of the first science lessons covered the standard and metric system of measurement.
In the second step, the plan expanded and both sides wanted to have students visit each campus. Each school selected students for the exchange. The students submitted write-ups with their likes and dislikes, and then matches were made. This fall, the Warriner students visited for a week, and in April the Stone students traveled to England.
The third step, a teacher exchange, is still in the planning phase. Hensley said both schools were going to select a couple teachers for a six- to nine-week exchange every other year. He added that the student exchange will continue, but it would be every other year as well.