L eading up the stairway of Doreen Michalak ‘s Peterborough home, there are 12 photos lining the wall, each showing a smiling face.
They’re not class photos of her children at different ages, though those are hung carefully on the wall, too. These are portraits of the 12 exchange students her family has hosted over the years.
This year, Michalak and her family are hosting their 13th: Pauline Herman, a 16-year-old exchange student from Marlenheim, France — near Strasbourg — who is attending ConVal Regional High School through a program sponsored by the Peterborough Rotary Club.
At school, there have been a lot of differences to get used to so far, Pauline said, from the schedule to the class offerings to the extracurricular opportunities. In France, classes can last from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and students have fewer choices in their courses, she said.
“I prefer the system here for high school, because you have classes in the morning and then in the afternoon you do a sport or you do an activity,” Pauline said. “ ... I think you have more liberty to choose what you want, something that really corresponds to you.”
Pauline has even joined the cross country team at ConVal, and had her first race a few weeks ago. At home in France, she enjoys horseback riding and swimming, and wanted to find a new way to stay active.
“Now, she’s never run before, mind you,” Michalak said, laughing. “She’s so brave.”
Paula Carcedo, another exchange student attending ConVal this year, has also been struck by the range of choices for students. The 15-year-old from Santander, Spain, is interested in art, so she signed up for graphic design — a class that typically wouldn’t be offered in her home country.
“There are a lot more subjects — more to choose (from),” she said. She also noted that in Spain, students stay in one classroom throughout the school day, but go home during lunchtime.
Paula said she’s excited to try new things during her year at ConVal — which was organized through the Program of Academic Exchange (PAX) — and get a real taste of American high school life. She chose to participate in an exchange program “to meet new people, have new experiences and live in another country,” she said.
“She’s taking junior classes but they treat the exchange students as seniors,” said Paula’s host mother, Sharon Ward, who is hosting a student with her husband for the first time this year. “And so they let them have the full experience, so she’ll get to do the prom and walk with a cap and gown with the seniors, and she’ll get a certificate at the end that she was here.”
Prom is something that Pauline is excited for, too. She said one of her teachers at ConVal stressed that it’s important to make the most of her “senior year.”
“She told us that this is our senior year, it’s something that happens once in a life, and me as an exchange student, I want to live that 100 percent,” Pauline said.
Both Paula and Pauline have also been enjoying the outdoors with activities like kayaking and camping. Ward is hoping to convince Paula — who comes from a coastal city — to try skiing this winter, and Pauline will take a rafting trip in Maine later this year through the Rotary Club.
For Michalak, each exchange student has something new to offer, and she’s proud of Pauline for putting herself out there and trying new things. Pauline’s proud of herself, too — and glad she can share her own culture while immersing herself in American life.
“I just care about what’s going on in the world and Europe in general, and I was really glad to share that with American people,” Pauline said. “Because it’s interesting to see their point of view of Europe and what they think about their country, too.”
Students at James Faulkner Elementary School in Stoddard kicked off the school year by enjoying the harvest from their school garden.
Each year in February, the students research and order seeds for the garden project. In the spring, they plant early crops like pumpkins, peas, summer squash and cucumbers in the school greenhouse, which are later transplanted to the garden.
Once harvested, the crops are used for shared snacks and taste tests, in which the kids will try the foods raw and then as part of a recipe.
“It’s a great way to encourage our students to try new foods,” said Jacquelyn Cornwell, a teacher at the school who facilitates the garden project. “In the garden right now, we have more than one variety of potatoes, beans, tomatoes, squash, peas, beets, radishes, lettuce, cucumber, basil and kale. We also have several varieties of flowers including sunflowers, calendula and cosmos.”
As the school year progresses, Cornwell plans to teach students about year-round growing by planting cold crops such as spinach and root vegetables in the school greenhouse.
“It will be fun to see the excitement on students’ faces when they realize they can have home-grown vegetables with feet of snow on the ground,” Cornwell said.