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Students in international exchange programs raise scholarship funds

By Susan Mustapich | Sep 18, 2019
Photo by: CHRHS Intercultural Exchange Program Camden Hills Regional High School exchange students lived with German students and their families, and toured Salzburg, Austria, this summer.

Students involved with travel to Germany, Morocco, France, London and Colorado this year will host a community dance and potluck dinner to raise scholarship funds for Camden Hills Regional High School's Intercultural Program.

The high energy dance band The Right Track will provide the beat, with funk, soul and R&B music. Families of the Camden Hills exchange students and a group of German exchange students will pitch in to make the evening fun.

The dance takes place Saturday, Sept. 28, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in Camden Hills' Wave Café. All proceeds will provide financial support for Camden Hills students to participate in the district's Intercultural Program.

Intercultural programs at Camden Hills are open to all students, and the scholarships create an opportunity for those who qualify for financial assistance. The program is led by teacher Tom Gray, who, with his wife, Annie, chaperoned an exchange trip this summer to Salzberg, Austria, and Amberg, Germany.

The trip began with students traveling through Salzberg, visiting castles and palaces, riding a cable car to the top of Untersberg mountain in the Alps region on the border of Austria and Germany, taking a "Sound of Music" tour and attending a Mozart dinner concert, exploring a salt mine and visiting the Dachau concentration camp. Traveling to Germany, students settled in for two weeks with host families in Amberg, experiencing everyday life, school days, recreation, food and culture. The students from Amberg arrived in Maine Sept. 16, and are now the guests of students and their families in the towns of Camden, Rockport, Hope, Appleton and Lincolnville.

Gray will lead an upcoming exchange trip to Morocco with administrative assistant Jane Self, and a cultural tour of London with Jane Chamberlain. A service learning trip to Colorado will be led by teachers Russell Kahn and Lindsy Evans, and teachers Kim Helmstetter and Don Mann will lead an exchange trip to France. An exchange program to Queensland, Australia, is also planned for this year.

While the Morocco, Colorado, and Australia exchanges are full, the France exchange and London tour are still open.

Gray has a personal take on the value of travel, whether it is international, within the United States, or to a nearby city. Over and above the classic view that exchange programs open opportunities for students and their families to experience other cultures, and for families to support the hopes and ambitions of visiting students, Gray sees these trips as "big adventures" and "transformative experiences" for students.

When recently he was asked to give a short speech as a semi-finalist for Knox County Teacher of the Year, Gray chose to focus on how a teacher who was "the king of field trips" changed his life.

As a small child, Gray was outgoing, and grownups loved his jokes and use of big words. But entering school as a smaller-than-average 4-year old eventually taught him to save his jokes and big words for after school, and that he would be picked last for dodge ball. By middle school, he believed sports and dances were not for kids like him, and he became introverted as a defense mechanism. His protective family, who preferred their suburban environment to nearby urban and rural areas, added another layer of insulation between him and the larger world.

Then, a new teacher, just out of college, shook up his middle school, and changed his mindset, he said. "He took us everywhere, into Philadelphia, Baltimore, D.C., Manhattan, Gettysburg."

This teacher planned adventures with "just the right balance of structure and spontaneity and flexibility," according to Gray. "He knew that adventure involves coping with the unknown and the adversity that comes with it, even if you have a clear goal in mind."

The teacher "knew when to get out of the way and let us kids do some planning," Gray said, and "gave us the opportunity to become competent at something that really mattered."

Decades later, Gray wonders if this teacher "knew how he was paying it forward." He thinks that without the foundation this teacher laid, he would not have gone to Germany and stood before the Berlin wall in 1987.

"I surely would not have become the kind of adult who goes to foreign countries and rents a car and drives around, and I would not be a teacher who does this for my own kids now."

Today he believes "the adventures were not really about travel, but were about building into education an opportunity for kids to cope with the unknown, so that they can discover their own agency. As we manage that, we grow," he said, and that growth occurs exponentially "in the context of a supportive and enthusiastic relationship with a teacher."

Camden Hills is at 25 Keelson Dr., Rockport. Tickets for the dance and dinner are $10 for students and staff from schools in the five towns, $20 for adults, or $50 for a family. To reserve tickets, which can be picked up at the door, email For more information, visit the CHRHS.International.Club on Facebook.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Sep 18, 2019 16:31

WOW! I wish I had a spectacular teacher and an opportunity like this one when I was in High School. But then it was long before such thoughts and trips existed. How wonderful with a new generation that they get to see the work outside of their home area!

Mary "Mickey" (Brown)McKeever +:0)....

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