When Melina Maehler arrived in Hixson, she felt like she’d stepped onto a television set.
“It looks just like ‘Desperate Housewives,’ the neighborhood,” the 14-year-old said, laughing.
Along with 18 of her classmates from Beisenkam Gymnasium, a school in Hamm, Germany, Ms. Maehler is visiting Chattanooga for about a month as an exchange student at Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts.
The students, mostly ninth- and 10th-graders, each will live with a host family from the middle-high school and attend classes for the next two weeks leading up to Hamilton County’s fall break. This is the fifth year students from Hamm have spent time at Creative Arts through a German American Partnership Program exchange.
As Hamilton County’s public schools prepare for German students who potentially may relocate to Chattanooga after Volkswagen moves here, principal Debbie Smith said it was important to know how best to meet the students’ needs.
“I’m interested in hearing your perspective,” she told the entire group of exchange students Monday. “What are some of the differences between German schools and us in the courses we offer? The level of difficulty? The length of our day?”
She asked the students to keep track of the strengths and weaknesses of her school during their time here and said she plans to take notes at the end of their stay.
Monday was only their first official day of classes, but some of the German students already noticed some differences.
“It’s funny that teachers are phoning in the classroom,” said Anna Maria Glade, who saw at least one instructor using a cell phone Monday morning.
“It’s very green here so far,” said Daniel Eisleben, 16.
Most students in Hamm walk or ride bicycles to school, said Ms. Maehler, so Hamilton County’s method of transportation is a novelty.
“I’m excited about yellow school buses,” she said with a grin.
Two separate groups of Creative Arts students will travel to Hamm later this year, which will help cement the relationships formed between the two schools, German teacher Karen Claypool said.
“It helps perpetuate the relationships and build friendships,” she said. “The students also get a chance to practice their English and German.”
Norbert Flaake, who teaches English at the Gymnasium, said the experience for his students goes far beyond honing their English language skills.
“The students become more aware of their own lifestyle and how they live,” he said.
Only three other schools in Tennessee offer the German exchange program and none are in Hamilton County, Ms. Claypool said. Chattanooga and Hamm have been Sister Cities for 31 years, she said.
Mr. Flaake, who has brought students to Chattanooga for the past five years, said one question pops up every time they leave the creative arts school.
“Some say, ‘Why can’t we have dancing at our school?’” he said.
Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...