This past school year, our School joined a domestic exchange program called The Network of Complementary Schools or “The Network.” As part of The Network, we hosted three students from schools in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts, and two of our 10th graders, Noah Kleinlehrer ’22 and Sebastian Ashman ’22, participated in a two-week exchange in December. They attended Quinter High School, a small, public high school in Quinter, Kansas. Eleventh grader Sydney Pollack ’21 was planning on spending one week at The Calhoun School in New York City this past April, but that was unfortunately canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. “Although exchanges were canceled as of March 2020 due to COVID-19, we look forward to sending students on exchanges and welcoming visitors to MICDS—hopefully even next school year, depending on the situation with coronavirus,” said Erin Hamill, Director of Global Learning.
The Network of Complementary Schools allows students to experience the diversity of our own country by living with a host family and attending school at a Network partner school that is completely unlike MICDS or in a part of the country that is completely different from St. Louis. It pushes students out of their comfort zones and encourages them to travel on their own and navigate a new cultural environment.
Among attending classes at Quinter High School, Noah and Sebastian participated in a variety of activities. They went to a chemical plant, a dairy farm, a sheep farm, a cattle auction, a Catholic Church and Castle Rock. They rode horses and even saw real-life cowboys. Sebastian also went to an open gym, a soda foundation and The Sternberg Museum of Natural History, witnessed the installation of an oil well and drove a tractor for the first time. Noah got to go pheasant hunting, helped with the school’s away basketball games and experienced a weekend without video games or movies.
The two reflected on their experiences and observations each day by writing daily blog entries. Below are just a few excerpts from their blogs.
Sebastian Ashman’s Blog Excerpts:
- On the area — “The area around Quinter, Kansas looks completely different from St. Louis, Missouri. You could see 10 miles or so in every direction and even see the curvature of the earth from some trees or telephone lines in the distance.”
- On the community — “Everybody seems to know each other very well throughout Quinter. This makes sense because the whole town is smaller than the amount of students at MICDS. It seems as though in the week and a half I have been here, everyone already knows me in the town and says hello to me.”
- On new experiences — “I got to go to a sheep farm. This was very interesting and different from anything I have ever done. I got to see day-old lambs and kittens. We got to see how they grew their own feed and how nutritionally, they developed their feed to find the best feed possible. For example, we got to see an indoor way they grew barley because it was better for the sheep. It was very interesting how the people on the farm were using technological innovation to help aid in the process of raising and selling sheep. The people at the farm also explained to us how the business worked and how the future of sheep farming would be.”
- On an observation — “A recurring theme I have noticed from all three farms we have been to is that technology is the future of farming especially through automation (such as self-driving trucks to fertilize the fields) and statistical organization (such as keeping track of sheep with computers).”
Noah Kleinlehrer’s Blog Excerpts:
- On the classes — “I was able to experience many new classes that MICDS does not offer. These classes were very interesting and helped me learn about an abundance of subjects. I even got to study MRIs and watch surgery!”
- On attending a Catholic church service — “It was so fascinating to compare and contrast Catholic services and Jewish services. From the perspective of a different religion, it was great to understand a second religion I had little knowledge about.”
- On new experiences — “I got the chance to visit a cattle auction. In groups ranging from two to 49, cattle such as cows were auctioned off at prices as high as $15,000! The sale itself was very intriguing as some of the bids got very intense so to speak. The bid would go in between two bidders, and they would not give up their bid. Finally, when the price got too high, one would pull out of the bidding. I had never even experienced an auction before, so this one was especially awesome. The auction itself was treated as if it were a sporting event, as concessions and different sections of the house were present. There were a lot of intense, passionate bidders there who were very ardent about winning.”
- On the lifestyle — “To experience a completely different lifestyle has been such a treat during my stay.”
Although Sydney Pollack ’21 did not get to embark on her exchange, it’s neat to see how unique her experience would have been. Ms. Hamill talks about the exposure that Sydney would have gotten to one of her passions: “Sydney’s stay at The Calhoun School in New York City would have really allowed her to focus on her love of the arts; she would have taken numerous classes in the arts with their faculty, looked at NYC colleges and visited art galleries and art museums.” Perhaps a domestic exchange in 2020-21 will work out for Sydney!
In exchange, our School and three MICDS families hosted the following three students.
- Ben Heineman from St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey who stayed with Noah Kleinlehrer’s family for one week
- Eliza Doolittle from The Academy at Charlemont in Massachusetts who stayed with the family of Rowan Taylor ’21 for two weeks
- Jacob Martin from Community High School in Roanoke, Virginia who stayed with the family of Peter Grace ’23 for one week
A sincere thank you to the three MICDS families who opened their homes to these students! They’ve also opened up about their hosting experiences too. The Kleinlehrer family expressed how they liked hosting: “We enjoyed hosting,” shares Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh, mother of Noah Kleinlehrer. “I loved hearing Ben’s thoughts on MICDS and the classes. He spoke very positively about our community. His mom reached out afterward to thank us. She was most sincere and gracious. It was also wonderful to have candid conversations about religion. Ben was curious about Judaism.”
Peter Grace’s mother, Lyn Grace, echoed this sentiment: “We loved our experience hosting our student from Virginia, Jacob Martin. I say ‘we’ because it really was our whole family who enjoyed having Jacob stay with us. The day before he came to stay with us, Peter asked, ‘Mom, what if I don’t like my exchange student?’ I thought about that and answered that he needed to treat him like a brother, regardless of whether he liked him or not. We got lucky—Jacob got treated like a brother (and a son) and we all liked him! Both my sons peppered him with questions about his school and what it was like (quite different from theirs). It was a lot of fun to see how they started to function as brothers. Of course, we visited some landmarks in St. Louis, but I think it was the friendship that really was neat to behold.”
Peter remarked, “I think it was a unique experience even though it was kind of unnerving going into it, but I liked it and I think he did too.”
What a world of new experiences, fresh perspectives and wonderful connections within our own country’s borders! Thank you to all those involved in our first year of the domestic exchange program!