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Week of July 29, 2004
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Buchanan Correspondent

Melissa Poole can finally relax. After organizing a four-week stay in America for 20 Spanish teenagers ? finding good homes for each of the visitors, arranging for morning English classes five days a week, and planning a wide variety of field trips designed to be fun, while exposing kids to as much of ‘the American experience’ as possible, everyone’s gone home, and she still has time to relax before returning to work as a teacher at Ottawa Elementary.

It was a good experience, and certainly the kids had a good time, as well as the families with whom they stayed.

“We’re both glad we came,” said Maria Ortega, 13, and Maria Ramos, 14.

One of Maria Ortega’s observations of American life?

“Here in America, people eat a lot of hot dogs!²

Maria Ramos stayed with Sue Hipshear, one of her morning English teachers.

Ten-year-old Chelsea said she didn’t mind bunking with her sister, Tabatha, 14, so that Maria could have her bedroom for a month.

One of Maria’s favorite outings was to Pretty Lake near Mount Pleasant. It was an annual family gathering for the Hipshears- lots of aunts, uncles and cousins ? and an introduction to Maria of lake cottage living, complete with swimming, pontooning and tubing.

Maria had never been tubing before and loved the experience. (She also likes trying American food.)

The Hipshears, though, may have had the most fun with Maria at home.

“Our big family thing is cards,” said Sue Hipshear. “We taught her all the poker games ? that and spoons.

“She gets excited and yells a lot near the end!”

Carla Capdevila Baquero, also 14, had a great time with her family as well.

Carla got to go horseback riding with Don and Brenda Mangold, who heard about the summer program from Melissa.

“She’s a client of mine,” said Brenda, who works as a massage therapist at Complete Chiropractic. “That’s how I learned about the program.

“My husband’s brother in Terre Haute has had numerous exchange students staying with him and his family, and we were always interested. We just didn’t know anyone doing placements.”

The Mangolds were happy to jump at the chance to invite a visiting teenager into their home for four weeks.

“It’s been great,” said Brenda, adding that Carla is just wonderful and her English is fabulous; there’s never a communication problem because of language.”

As a ‘typical teenager,’ she said, Carla spent a lot of time on the Internet, talking to friends and family in Spain, and watching American television.

But she was also up for any adventures and was especially interested in a trip to a Battle Creek powwow.

Weekends were for family, but the kids started out each weekday with classes held at First United Methodist Church, then hopped in vans for field trips all over the area.

English classes were taught by Linsey Brueck, who teaches first grade at Ottawa Elementary, Jennifer Schembri, who teaches Spanish and psychology at Niles High School, and Hipshear, a health care aide at Ottawa.

(Hipshear taught the third and fourth week, replacing Schembri when she left for a Costa Rica trip with her own Spanish language students.)

Brueck, who spent four weeks with the students, said they worked on their writing and speaking skills in a variety of ways.

On the first day, for example, all the students were given a large poster board on which they could create giant ‘student IDs’ with cut-outs, drawings and writing that said something about themselves.

Daily journal writing, mock interviews (they had to answer in English), and board games were among other regular learning activities.

“There was great improvement in comprehension and speaking for most of the students,” Brueck said.

The field trip schedule was Poole’s brainchild. After finding good families for the kids, fun getting-to-know-America activities were the next priority, she said.

So the group went ice skating and dune riding, bowling and kayaking.

American baseball was on the schedule in the form of a South Bend Silver Hawks game. They even got the traditional vacation factory tour: the South Bend Chocolate Factory was a fun choice.

Naturally, they got to cool off at a water park, and there were lots of

great shopping trips ? from local malls to downtown Chicago.

Then there were the big trips ? and, not surprisingly, the most popular: Six Flags and Niagara Falls. All the kids listed those two as top favorites.

The group arrived in America with a welcoming picnic and left after cooking a traditional Spanish dinner for their host families.

All in all, it was an exciting ? and a satisfying ? experience.

It must have been since Poole, despite overwhelming and exhausting responsibilities, is already thinking ahead to next summer.

She invites any families interested in hosting an international student for four weeks next summer to call her at 697-4169, or e-mail her at m-poole@sbcglobal.net.

Poole is also recruiting homes for three visiting students who hope to attend Niles High School this fall. (One will be from Spain; she’s not yet sure of the other two.) Please contact her if you are interested.

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