By LOUISE THOMASON
WITH ONE of the most exciting Presidential elections for decades, the United States has been the focus of much attention lately and three Shetland school pupils were lucky enough to experience it first hand.
Bobby Bristow, from the Anderson High School’s S5, Chloe Robertson from S2 and Karis Georgeson from P7 at Whiteness Primary School recently travelled to New Jersey as part of the Global Classroom and Learning School initiatives.
With 21 member schools in 11, countries the Global Classroom has seen pupils exchange ideas and information for 10 years. The most recent to join the was Ridgewood High School, New Jersey, in 2007, which the pupils visited, sharing their experiences from Shetland with American children and observing their classes.
With a new partner school based in America and the presidential elections looming, former modern studies teacher Stuart Clubb (see story below) recognised a trip would be a fantastic opportunity, not to mention the experience of a lifetime.
A few primary schools were contacted to widen the opportunity to those outside of Lerwick, and Whiteness Primary school grasped the chance to be involved.
The trip was announced in October, and each pupil had to fill in a substantial application explaining why they wanted to go and what they would bring to the trip if they were picked. The applications were also anonymous. Teachers Caroline Watt, Stuart Clubb and Stewart Hay read through each application and chose which students were to take part in the six-day trip.
The youngest of the three to travel was 11 year old Karis. She hopes to be a journalist or television presenter when she is older, something she put on her application and which may have helped her get a place on the trip.
The pupils had all been learning about the American presidential elections, Bobby and Chloe in modern studies and Karis in her community lessons. A highlight of the trip, therefore, was spending election day in New York’s Times Square, where they had the opportunity to interview passersby on their thoughts about the election.
Karis said she didn’t have a favourite part of the trip as it was all so brilliant. She hadn’t been to America before and was really excited.
Speaking of the day spent in Times Square, Karis said: “It was really good; it was so completely different to anything here, so much busier. Everybody was really excited and nervous.”
Chloe, 14, agreed. She said: “Times Square was amazing, everything was huge. It’s not at all like Shetland! The atmosphere was just buzzing.”
She also enjoyed interviewing the voters in Times Square, at a CNN news-stand, asking them who they would be voting for and why. Chloe said it was clear the majority of people were pro-Obama: “We couldn’t really find any McCain supporters. They would have been there, but everyone we spoke to was for Obama.”
During the trip the group was staying with host families of pupils attending the partner schools and Chloe was at home with them when the election results were announced.
Chloe said of her host family, the Ekblombs: “They were so friendly and so welcoming. There were four of them, the mum and dad and a brother and sister.”
Karis’s family were also welcoming. She said: “They were really nice. They were Catholic and went to church on Sunday, but I didn’t have to go.”
The pupils also spent time at the partner schools, Ridgewood High and Ben Franklin Middle School, where they observed lessons. Choe said: “The school had nine periods a day instead of six. Sometimes I took part but most of the time I just watched. It was amazing to see another side of life.”
Bobby, 16, said that the whole trip was overwhelming and no one thing stood out. His host family had a son a few years younger than Bobby who was just starting his first year at Ridgewood High.
He said: “They were lovely, so friendly. It was like it was part of their family for four days. I actually phoned them last night to see how they were so we’ll be keeping in touch.”
Bobby said being in America gave him a different perspective on American life and in particular reasons behind voting: “From our perspective, a lot of what we were studying was foreign policy related; but for the Americans, things like Iraq didn’t seem so important, it was all about the economy.”
He said he experienced this when talking to his host family: “The wife had voted Democrat in the local elections and was pro-Obama, but the dad said he’d have to vote Republican due to his business and for tax reasons.”
Bobby was also in Times Square and stayed into the night to witness the results. He said: “It was so exciting, it was absolutely mobbed. You could barely move from one block to another.”
He said of the trip: “You learn far more about the process actually being there. I’d say if the school was thinking of doing it again to go for it, it was an amazing experience.”
The group has made a DVD of their experiences, featuring interviews with electors in Times Square which will be used as a teaching resource in modern studies as an alternative to the usual books and handouts. It was this aspect of the trip that encouraged the school to contribute towards the cost of the trip, as well as contributions from the pupils themselves and the SIC.