Pekin Community High School is celebrating its 30th year as a GAPP exchange school. GAPP stands for the German American Partnership Program. Since 2012 the PCHS’s current exchange school is the Max-Born-Gymnasium in Backnang, Germany. The school was named after the famous 20th century German physicist Max Born who happened to be the maternal grandfather of Olivia Newton-John. Born was also a descendant of the famous German theologian, Martin Luther. Built in 1970, the school population is about 800 students.
This summer, the students and their families in Backnang hosted 11 students from PCHS. The students were chaperoned by PCHS teachers Dr. Dale Holzwarth and Colleen Kahl. The group was able to visit European states such as Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria and Germany.
“I didn’t really expect how nice some of the German people would be,” said University of Bradley freshman Danielle Watson, a recent PCHS graduate. “Especially with my house family, they were really nice and a lot like my family so it was really nice getting to know people in Germany.”
The school (PCHS) and school board endorse the trip, but they don’t fund any part of it. We had to fund raise like crazy for the trip, said Holzwarth.
The entire trip lasted 22 days total as the students spent two weeks living with their house families, as well as going to school during the week at the Max-Born-Gymnasium in Backnang.
“I didn’t realize how lax the school system is there compared to PCHS, especially when it came to being tardy or just sometimes not going to class,” said University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign freshman Joshua Utley, a recent PCHS graduate. “It almost felt like you were in a university classroom where the attitude was you have the option of missing class but it’s your loss if you do.”
During their two-week home stay in Backnang, students got a tour of the town visiting places like the city of Stuttgart, the Mercedes-Benz Museum, as well as touring part of the Porsche factory.
“The trip as a whole was very eye-opening,” said Watson. “If you ever have the chance to go don’t think about how much money it’s going to cost because it’s 100 percent worth it and you learn a lot about the culture but more importantly a lot about yourself.”
A week of the trip was spent on traveling around Europe visiting destinations like the Chapel Bridge in Luzern, Switzerland, or visiting Innsbruck, Austria, and touring the old down town area and the Hofkirche (Court Church).
“Traveling to Germany was the highlight of my summer,” said Utley. “At the end of the day it’s an investment because there’s so much value in learning that there’s a world outside of the world you live in.”
Students from Backnang will be visiting PCHS in 2019. The two-year exchange cycle allows each side to take turns visiting one another. PCHS travels to Germany every even numbered summer (2014, 2016, 2018), while students from Backnang visits every odd numbered spring (2013, 2015, 2017).