November 07, 2012 - Oxford Community Schools is once again expanding its schooling territory. This time it is "south of the border."
Oxford Superintendent Dr. William Skilling (center right) and OHS Assistant Principal Kurt Nuss (far right) are shown here following the signing of some paperwork concerning Oxford’s new sister schools in Mexico. With them are Principal Odorico Mora and University President Jorge Luis Lima Villegas. Photo provided. (click for larger version)
Superintendent Dr. William Skilling, along with school staff members from Leonard Elementary, Lakeville Elementary and Oxford High School, traveled to Mexico on Oct. 20 to sign two sister schools agreements. One with San Juana de Asbaje Elementary in Tlalnepantla Mexico and another with Bachillerato 5 de Mayo High School in Puebla Mexico.
"It gave us an opportunity to make a connection in Mexico," Skilling said. "This will help overall to strengthen our existing language and Spanish cultural program that we offer now K-12."
Paul McDevitt, principal at Leonard Elementary agreed.
"As we look to provide more and more opportunities for our students to be global minded, this was a good first step," he said. "We have to develop the relationships with the people in order for our schools to be able to collaborate and provide things for students from both countries."
Kurt Nuss, assistant principal at Oxford High School said the trip provided opportunities for their students that they can begin right away.
"We envision not only the exchange of ideas through simple technologies such as Skype and e-mails, communications through teachers exchanging ideas, but also directly connecting kids to other kids in Mexico through those measures," he said. "They could help our students with their Spanish. We can help them with their English, but even beyond those simple things, (they can) work on projects together whether it be academic or community service projects."
Nuss said not only being able to share experiences, but the different perspectives from different cultures on projects and ideas will be very beneficial students at both schools.
"In the future we're looking for some possible exchanges where our kids go down there for a short period of time and their kids come up to visit us, so they not only establish those relationships through technology, but hopefully physically in them actually visiting and experiencing that culture directly and being immersed in the language," he said. "(There) are some pretty cool opportunities that were unimaginable just a few years ago."
Lakeville Elementary Spanish teacher Norma Parker said she's already set up her Skype with the elementary in Tlalnepantla.
"I just think it's going to be an amazing experience for both schools, Lakeville and San Juana de Asbaje," she said. "We will be able to share culture stuff like important holidays."
The thing that stood out most to all who went on the trip was the welcome they received not only by the schools, but by the state government.
"I have been involved with 16 school ceremonies, nothing compared to what the school officials and political officials did to make us feel welcome, to show respect, friendship and even love towards us," said Skilling. "It was overwhelming how hospitable they were and how excited they were to have this relationship."
Skilling said the sister agreement between the schools was the first one ever agreed to in the state of Mexico.
"From our understanding this had to be agreed to first by the state government and than the local government before the schools could actually have the agreement," he said. "That was pretty exciting. There were a lot of government officials there and they just treated us in such a kind way."
Parker said not only was the welcome from school and government officials outstanding, but also from the parents of students from San Juana de Asbaje elementary. "They invited us to their homes and they made delicious Pozle, which is a hominy soup and very traditional for their state," she said. "As well as a corn cake called Pastel de Elote."
The trip also gave an opportunity to do some touring and take in the historical sites. McDevitt said they had some private tours even beyond what the general pubic gets to see, including cathedrals, municipal palaces and ancient Mayan and Aztek temples and pyramids.
"One of things I hope our students get to learn and experience is that Mexico does have a really rich culture that they are very proud of," he said. "It was nice getting a chance to experience some of that (firsthand)."
Parker who is originally from Montamoros Mexico, on the border of Brownville, Texas, said it was her first time to both Tlalnepantla and Puebla. She said she learned about both of those places in school, but had never visited them.
"I never thought I would see that much history and be there," Parker said. "With all the cathedrals and historic places from the 1500s in Puebla it was just amazing. I was just in heaven."
"I was telling my husband this is going to be the place to retire," she added. "We're definitely going there."
Nuss called the experience "humbling."
"For me as a (former) history teacher it was awe inspiring to be able to be in those places and find out more details about them," added Nuss. "To see how the people of the culture view it from their perspective was pretty neat."
Over and beyond just the beauty and the history of the area, was the opportunity to provide something more for Oxford students, according to Nuss.
"Our students and their students being able to have those cross-cultural exchanges, those language development and the viewpoints of the different perspectives where they can compare and contrast what they can collaborate on with something you can't just get out of a text book. It brings that learning to life in a real way," he said. "That was really the mission."
As for next steps, Skilling said they are already strategizing on how to make Mexican school officials' visit memorable when they come to Oxford next semester. "We're working on a plan to be able to roll out the red carpet as well," he said. "And treat them in the same kind loving way they treated us."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.