By LINDSAY CAREY
The Town Council voted to support an AP German class at Southington High School (SHS) in pursuing a partnership between Southington and the town of Leer in northwestern Germany, bordering the Netherlands.
SHS students Jordan Murchison, Niels Peschel and Dominic Zmarlicki, their teacher Renate Ringstad, and SHS Language Department head Tina Riccio attended the Town Council meeting on Monday, March 23 to explain how developing a relationship with this German town could benefit Southington.
Riccio said that this sister city project was a student-developed idea and that one of the students in the class is from the town of Leer, which has a population of about 34,000.
She also explained that having a sister city is a political relationship from town to town, not school to school, which is why they came to ask the town council’s permission to foster this relationship.
Riccio said that the class and Ringstad came to her with the idea and has also gotten support from Assistant Principal Michael Halloran, Principal Martin Semmel, and Interim Superintendent Brian Straineri. Riccio also said that the class has the interest of the mayor of Leer, who said she would be asking her town council for approval as well.
The students explained that there would be opportunities to exchange art between the towns with the help of groups like the Southington Community Cultural Arts (SCCA) and perhaps the schools. They also discussed possibly exchanging information about the Apple Harvest Festival and the American festival that takes place in Leer.
The students also said that they believe this could increase tourism by differentiating the town as one of the 522 cities in America with a sister city. They also implied that establishing a relationship with Leer could lead to business opportunities between the towns.
This partnership will be of no cost to the town, because it will primarily be a communication-based relationship, either online or through the mail, which could be supported by fundraising efforts.
Riccio said that she is hoping some civic organizations will want to support this effort and maybe some businesses could sponsor.
“The vision that we’ve talked about quite a bit is that you have the two heads of government exchange an annual state of the city around Christmas time. Then we’d hear what were the highlights of the year in Leer and what were the highlights in Southington,” said Ringstad. “Another way to get past that would be exchanges from children’s hard work like letters, through the internet, absolutely zero cost as a starting point.”
Town Councilor Dawn Miceli said she loved the idea and said that she could see the SCCA, the Rotary Club, and maybe even the Library Director Sue Smayda getting involved.
I love the idea of cultivating a relationship with a global community,” said Miceli. My mind immediately goes to the benefits to our community and theirs and also to our civic groups in town.”
Councilors John Barry and Stephanie Urillo also praised the idea.