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Southern exchange

Laguna Beach High School students will soon embark on an educational journey that veers outside of the classroom, when the school welcomes four students from Winona Secondary School in Mississippi as part of a new “cultural exchange” experiment.

“It’s a new way for students and schools to learn from each other,” Principal Don Austin said. “We need to start sharing and working together. It’s time to stop learning from programs and learn from other people.”

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Through the exchange, two male and female upperclassmen from Mississippi, accompanied by their principal, will spend a week in Laguna beginning Sept. 26, where they will get to stay with a host family, play the role of a LBHS student and visit local colleges and major businesses. They will also have a chance to enjoy local pastimes like going to an Angels game, visiting the aquarium or surfing.

In a few months, thanks to a sponsorship from Hurley, Austin will then travel with Laguna Beach High students Marely Donenfield, Lauren Slater, Jack Clark and Tyler Pierce to Mississippi, where they will stay with host families, attend Winona Secondary School and experience the local culture there.

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Austin said the idea arose from a conversation he had with Winona Principal Charlie Parkerson, whom he recently met at a national principals’ conference in Phoenix.

“It began as an informal conversation about the differences and similarities between our towns and our kids,” he said. “We hypothesized that our kids would get along beautifully and that we could learn from each other, which led to the idea for this exchange.”

The idea is to also break the competition that often exists between different schools, socioeconomic status and cultures, by allowing students to engage on a more intimate level.

Student participants were chosen in an informal process, based on who expressed the most interest.

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Junior, Tyler Pierce, whose family will host a male student from Mississippi, said he is excited to teach his visitor about the “real” Laguna as well as learn about his own community.

“During their visit, I hope to show them what California culture is really like and debunk the MTV stereotypes that have been created,” he said. “There are so many kids at our school with interesting stories who have a lot to offer, nothing like what [MTV’s Laguna Beach] portrayed.

“I’m also looking forward to visiting their town, meeting new people and hearing their points of view about life and how they think school should be. I hope I learn things that [inspire] me to be more productive in my own life.”

Senior and student representative Lauren Slater said she too is excited to make new friends from a different background and explore a culture unlike any she has experienced before.

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“I hope to gain knowledge about the new friends I’ll make and learn as much about their culture as I can. I’m curious to see how their high school operates in comparison to ours, and what the high school experience is life for them,” she said. “I think this exchange is such a good idea and hope it sparks a national program, where schools all over the country will get to participate in something like this.”

Austin said he believes the exchange will prove to be beneficial for both schools involved, as both parties share their insecurities, fears, strengths, skills and potential.

“Ultimately, it is possible that schools across the country can see the value in forming collaborative and non-competitive partnerships to help each other. That is the true value. This can be a field trip or it can be a movement. I’m hoping for a movement,” he said.


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