Plans for a GAPP: German students start fundraising for 2018 exchange

Sophomores Chase Foxen, left, and Kelly Ward sand down the edges of birdhouses Ward built a few years ago. The birdhouses will be updated and finished in time for an April German-American Partnership trip the students plan to take in 2018. Press photos by Kate Hayden
Sophomores Chase Foxen, left, and Kelly Ward sand down the edges of birdhouses Ward built a few years ago. The birdhouses will be updated and finished in time for an April fundraiser, supporting a German-American Partnership trip the students plan to take in 2018. Press photos by Kate Hayden
By Kate Hayden, khayden@charlescitypress.com

The high school workshop didn’t stay quiet for long over spring break.

Sophomores Kelly Ward and Chase Foxen were in bright and early on Tuesday morning, pulling out ten unused birdhouses Ward built in eighth grade and beginning the refinishing process.

Sophomore Chase Foxen sands down the sides of birdhouses that will be up for auction on April 6. Press photo by Kate Hayden
Sophomore Chase Foxen sands down the sides of birdhouses that will be up for auction on April 6. Press photo by Kate Hayden

“They were intended for a project in eighth grade,” Ward said. “The project was to hang them up around the high school grounds, but those grounds got taken up by the new middle school, so they just kind of sat in the (old) middle school for two years.”

Once repainted, the nearly-new birdhouses will be put up for auction this April, along with other student-made items and student services such as babysitting, yard work and dog-walking, German teacher Marilyn Buttjer said. Charles City students participating in the German-American Partnership Program (GAPP) are hosting a spaghetti night supper with live and silent auctions on April 6, from 5-8 p.m.

Tickets are $10 ages 4 and up, and the dinner will be located at the high school cafeteria.

Also up for silent auction could potentially be a fire pit Foxen is welding during school hours, he said.

“These two are two of nine kids, presently, planning to go on the GAPP exchange in 2018,” Buttjer said. “We’re going to have a live auction of whatever talent or thing that they are willing to do, perhaps X hours of babysitting or yard work … They’ll be telling us that in about a week or so, what they are going to offer themselves.”

Those students will spend about three and a half weeks with Buttjer and several German host families in Walsrode, Germany, where they will attend gymnasium –– the most advanced level of German secondary schools, similar to U.S. high schools. The GAPP exchange has started since 1989 with the Walsrode gymnasium –– a few Charles City graduates who went on some of the first GAPP trips are now sending their high school-aged children through the same program, Buttjer said. The first year of the program, students entered East Berlin to see life in then-Soviet occupied Germany.

“(It’s) not just about language skills, but the friendships that were made,” she added. “That was one of the reasons why this whole program was developed.  It was post-World War, and Germany realized –– and I think, so did the United States –– that in order to do something more positive with young people, this was one way to do it. Let’s create those friendships.”

For the trip’s duration, Charles City students each live with a host family and attend classes at Walsrode, with Buttjer also living in Germany as a Charles City representative. Students will also visit Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp, where Anne Frank died during the Holocaust; Berlin, where the class will visit the Reichstag building, the Berlin Wall and is considering taking a bicycle tour. Final dates have not been set yet between Charles City High School and the Walsrode gymnasium, as dates need to be coordinated between the two calendars.

“(On) the weekends, they are free to do things with their families,” Buttjer said.

“It’s a great opportunity to expand your horizons and really integrate yourself into a more global community, especially in today’s age where every country is reliant on another,” Foxen said.

“You don’t really get opportunities like this in high school,” Ward said. “If you get an opportunity like this, you should take it.”

GAPP students from Walsrode, which has a larger English department than Charles City’s German department, visit the Charles City High School every year and stay with host families for U.S. classes.

“This is so valuable to our school,” Buttjer said. “Those kids come and have their own schedule, they’re in other teachers’ classes so that they get to see what this school is really like … They love this place. They say everybody here is so friendly, every year they say that.”

For Charles City students traveling to Germany, the experience is eye-opening, Buttjer said.

“It’s such a powerful experience not just because of the language. They also get to know what they really can do on their own,” Buttjer said. “As far as self-confidence –– wonderful, absolutely wonderful.”

Even over a year out, students are already thinking about the potential takeaways.

“I’m nervous,” Ward said. “I feel like they’ll be judging me … they start English at fourth grade, so technically I’m like a second grader talking to them. It’s pretty simple, I guess.”

“With one week, you can kind of get a slight exposure to what goes on in that country but you don’t get to see how things actually work on a week-by-week basis,” Foxen said. “Having that extra time really helps you learn more, and then also see the way of life a lot clearer than one week’s exposure.”

Students going on the 2018 GAPP trip have started planning fundraisers earlier than past trips, she added.

“Hopefully it will be well-attended. They’re selling tickets, and there will be some available at the door, although really we need to know that we have X amount of people coming,” Buttjer said.

To purchase tickets, community members can contact one of nine Charles City High School students: Foxen, Ward, Nolan Loftus, Carter West, Ryeleigh Lair, Lexie Carey, Katlyn Marty, Madelyn Tjaden and Brynn Parks. All students planning to go will be either juniors or seniors during the 2018 trip.

“I think this is one of the most valuable programs here at this high school,” Buttjer said. “It is real-world … Use your skills, live in an environment that you’re not used to.”

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