Thursday, March 23, 2000

S. African pupils get taste of America

Enquirer contributor

        Where they come from, teachers change classes instead of students; there are no lockers in the classroom; and computers are not nearly as accessible.

        These are just a few of the differences students from Cape Town, South Africa, shared Wednesday with Mary Smith's sixth grade class at St. Catharine School in Westwood.

        The 30 student visitors, spanning grades one through 12, spent the day at St. Ca tharine's as part of an exchange program sponsored by the Marva Collins Preparatory School in Roselawn.

        Physical plant aspects aside, “The way they act is pretty close to the way we act,” said St. Catharine sixth grader, Jeff Popejoy, 12.

        The group arrived from South Africa on March 5 and departs on Sunday, after a whirlwind tour that included a lot of introductions — to prominent people, local cuisine and area school children. So far, there's been lunch with Mayor Charlie Luken, a visit to the statehouse in Columbus and lunch at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse. Wednesday they sampled Cincinnati-style chili prepared in St. Catharine's lunchroom. “Oh, I liked it,” said Lyle Henkeman, 11.

        The students are accompanied by 15 chaperons, four of whom are educators.

        “We've tried to give them an enjoyable time here,” said Cleaster Mims, who co-founded Marva Collins in 1990.

        Students and chaperons covered the cost of their air fare. Tour costs, Ms. Mims said, have been provided by Marva Collins parents, faculty and community.

        “For these kids, it was a cultural shock to see the vastness of Cincinnati,” said Thurston Brown, a South African high school principal, , who added that Cape Town's population of about 3 million occupies a smaller land mass.

        “They notice the class size as well,” said Ms. Mims, pointing out that “a typical class in South Africa holds 40-60 students.”

        At St. Catharine's, Ms. Smith said she is amazed at the South African students' command of English.


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