View video highlights from Independence High School student, Myrti Tipton.
Here, in Charlotte students are accustomed to seeing city lights, multi-storied malls, museums and attending school with hundreds, if not thousands of students. In Beaver River, a hamlet in the village of Croghan, N.Y., students are accustomed to seeing farmland, local ice cream parlors and attending only one school from kindergarten through grade 12. The district’s school, Beaver River Central, will have less than 100 graduates this year.
For Independence High School students, who recently visited the area, this was a new and eye-opening experience for many. Independence teacher, Kristine Neale, who is a former teacher at Beaver River, was recently invited to perform during Beaver River’s auditorium dedication ceremony. She convinced the district’s superintendent to allow 22 of her choral students to take the journey and perform alongside her. The big idea was to have the students from each school meet and learn about their differences, but more importantly their commonalities in a cultural exchange program.
The flight expenses were paid by the Beaver River Central School District through grants totaling nearly $10,000. Students and chaperones stayed with host families for five days.
Independence students gained new experiences and learned about life in a rural setting. Class sizes at Beaver River are small – about 12 students per class – with instruction periods only 30 minutes long.
“School was a lot different there,” eleventh-grader Jeremy Frye said. “Everyone knew each other. It bought students closer together. Here, we attend class with about 30 students and classes are much longer.”
According to Neale, the area consists of mostly Caucasians with some ethnic diversity in recent years. However, Beaver River students were “less impressed with the way we looked, than the fact that we are from a big city,” said Neale.
Tenth-grader Chase Lewis said being in upstate New York offered a new perspective about what she imagined small-town life to be. She and her peers had a chance to do things they never did before – for some that meant taking their first flight and for others that meant something as simple as roasting marshmallows or gutting fish.
“Their attitudes and personalities are more cheerful there. Maybe it has to do with the fact that there are more cows than people,” Chase joked.
Despite the obvious differences seen by the Independence students, they found common interests and fell in love with the wholesome small town lifestyle.
“These kids hold the key to the future of our society. This is the place to start … to tear down walls of separation,” said Neale. “I hope that the bonds made during the trip will make us smarter and open our minds further.”