By JEN CARDINES
Despite the winter vacation, the Southington High School (SHS) cafeteria was bustling with people on Thursday night, Dec. 29. A group of 16 Costa Rican students and two of their teachers traveled to Southington as part of a foreign exchange program, which kicked off with a welcome dinner for all parties involved.
The exchange students were greeted by SHS staff, town officials, and host families at the dinner. Town Manager Garry Brumback championed the program, saying that he was a huge proponent of the value of diversity.
“It’s an opportunity for us to share, it’s an opportunity for us to show off, and it’s an opportunity for us to learn a different perspective from people who come from a completely different culture,” said Brumback.
Board of Education chair Brian Goralski also spoke to the crowd. “We’re proud of what we do in our schools, but we can’t replicate anything that you could bring to us culturally,” he said. “Thank you for choosing Southington, I’m glad you’re with us.”
Spearheaded by foreign language teacher Teresa Curtis, the program is the first full exchange—where both groups travel to each others’ country—done at SHS.
“It’s been a goal for me professionally since I started working here,” Curtis said. “I recognize as a language teacher the importance of giving an immersive experience and exposing my students to the culture.
The Costa Rican students came from San Agustín High School, where everyone is a bi-lingual learner. They begin learning the English language at age four, so by adolescence they are fluent speakers. San Agustín English teacher Luis Miguel runs the conversations class, where students are told to just speak, interact, and play games in English to reinforce the language.
Like some of his students, this was Miguel’s first time in the United States. Just the brief dusting of snow flurries caused excitement for them because it’s something they can’t see in their country.
“Costa Rica has only two seasons: rainy and dry,” Miguel said. “The temperature is always warm all year.”
Southington students were each paired up with a Costa Rican student to spend time with during the visit.
World Language department chair Tina Riccio said that the program was open to sophomores and juniors. At San Agustín, the high school ranges from grades 7 to 11, so many of the students were younger than their Southington partners.
Curtis said that during the two-week stay, there are family days, excursion days, and school days. The whole group traveled to the cities of New York City, Boston, New Haven, and Hartford, and they had an afternoon at Powder Ridge for snow tubing.
Family days allowed the exchange students to spend time with his or her host family and do anything they wanted. During the school days, the Costa Rican students followed their Southington counterpart to all of their classes and got to experience the American classroom setting.
When the SHS students go to Costa Rica in July, school will still be in session. The Costa Rican school year begins when the students fly back home, so that enabled them to come here without missing classes.
After two years of planning, the Costa Rican Education Exchange was finally able to happen for Southington students and families. SHS English teacher Chris Cavalho and Curtis will lead the children on the July trip to Costa Rica in order to complete the exchange.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Jen Cardines, email her at JCardines@SouthingtonObserver.com.
Photos by MARGARET WAAGE