German School Partnership
Exchange Project between St Joseph’s Cornwall and Die Gesamtschule Büren
The partnership between St Joseph’s and die Gesamtschule Büren started in Summer 2019, when none of us had heard of Covid 19. Staff came into contact through a family connection between colleagues and quickly got the ball rolling with teacher visits, everyone eager to set up a successful partnership between the two schools. Initially our students were in contact through letters, we shared project work and sent our first Christmas boxes, full of traditional Christmas items from each country – now a much-loved tradition between our schools! We planned for our first group of German students to visit Cornwall in March 2020 - a date which is now too familiar to all of us: the start of the first lockdown.
Determined not to give up, through lockdown, we kept in touch and with everyone working at home, communicating online for school work, it became natural for us to link up our classes online too. We set up shared Teams and linked up in video calls where we shared our lockdown experiences and wishes, creating a strong bond between many of our students. This really was the silver lining of the lockdown cloud for us!
In March 2022 our first group of German students came to visit – it was a wonderful experience for everyone involved, but with many covid restrictions still in place and uncertainty around travel, it proved impossible to get enough students from the UK for a return trip to Germany that year. Nevertheless, we continued planning and decided to give our students a focus for our school exchange – a focus on communication and on sport. We applied for funding from the UK-German connection and so our current project sprang into life.
Our Project, Part 1:
We chose to consider how we communicate through sport: the common gestures, celebrations, signals, words or phrases, that help us to understand our team-mates and succeed in whatever sporting activity we wish to join in. During the German visit to Cornwall, we planned a range of activities, some to help our students get to know each other and bond socially, such as our first day trip to the Eden project and many, with a sports focus, to allow us to consider our theme of communication through sport.
One day, as well as going to lessons with their partners, students played football together, took part in PE lessons and went bowling. Another day, we spent at the beach, with activities including a surf lesson, as well as beach cricket – both sports which many German students had never encountered. One of the German students is also an expert in kite-building and flying, so she coached both British and German students on the beach, showing them how to catch the wind and keep the magnificent kites she had brought with her afloat! The surf instructor also led us in some team games, involving accurate communication and some creative thinking – it was amazing to see how our mixed language teams came together during these activities, collaborating, working towards a common goal and always smiling!
Through all of the activities, students were asked to think about how they were communicating, and each day we held discussion sessions, where students reflected on their communication methods, as well as how they overcame any language barriers and how they might be building up relationships through participating in common activities. There was a lot of mixing language – picking and choosing the words or phrases they knew, there was also a lot of gesture, signalling and demonstrating going on. Through these physical activities and shared experiences, students were becoming more confident and relaxed with each other and building real friendships. It was wonderful to see!
At the end of the week in Cornwall, German and English students worked together to deliver an assembly, sharing their experiences of the week as well as explaining to the rest of the school their thoughts on communication through sport. The young people who stood up in that assembly were clearly energised by their experiences and keen to share their enthusiasm with all around!
Part 2: Our Return Visit
In October, it was the turn of St Jo’s students to travel to our hosts in Büren, and during this visit, we took our project further, to encompass the impact of sport on young people, the role it has to play in their day to day lives, on their friendships and their health. Before our visit, the students designed a questionnaire to give a starting point to discussion in both languages.
Activities in Germany included visits to Paderborn and Dortmund as well as a tour of the Borussia Dortmund stadium, which was a big highlight for many of the students. We planned physical activities that encouraged communication between British and German partners, for example, one morning we had a “live gaming” session at a sport centre in Paderborn, where students played games like Mario Cart or Minecraft, but in real life! We played boule, golf and the German students even taught their partners how to play Völkerball. It was quite a challenge for students, carefully choosing their language to explain the rules, or finding gestures to help demonstrate, but a good deal of fun!
During our project work it was great to hear students discussing the ways in which sport is important to them and the different kinds of sports they value and why. We held group discussions and filmed mini interviews. A major highlight for staff was watching students interact, and grow in confidence in their interactions, seeing students moving very much out of their comfort zones, plus, learning to depend on themselves, to organise themselves and to just give absolutely everything a go. The way students from both schools threw themselves into every single activity was just magical – watching them smile together, laugh together, learn new sports together and declare firmly to the cold, choppy Cornish sea that they were not going to be beaten by it, was exactly the positivity we hoped for!
This project has not only brought huge pleasure to all of us who have been involved with it – we have all strengthened our relationships through the visits, got to understand each other and have many ideas for the next steps, but also, the profile of German and English in each school has been significantly boosted. Students as young as Year 4, 5 or 6 are already talking about “when I get to go on the exchange”. One of our Year 11 students said how proud of herself she was for “properly using my German” when she joined in a German Science lesson on climate change using language we’d learnt back at school, and a Year 8 boy declared “this is definitely one of the best things I have ever done”.
Since their return to school, students and staff in both schools have been working hard to edit photos and videos and get our blog up and running. We have shared our experiences in an assembly, as well as with local newspapers, and students have been talking about their experiences with their peers, their families and their teachers, spreading their joy and excitement in what has been a very successful project! Thank you to the UK-German Connection for their support, enabling us to give our students this opportunity!
Attached: Links to videos of interviews produced by our students (also included in blog)
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