The search for an effective Values Education focus for Stage 3 students led teachers from Sylvania Heights and Merrylands Public schools to investigate the benefits of a cultural exchange program.
Having found each other on the cultural exchange website, the two Sydney based schools began the process of organising an exchange. This exchange highlighted both the similarities and differences of two very different school populations.
The purpose of the initial program was to develop friendships, tolerance and a better understanding of cultural differences within the school environment. Both schools targeted Stage 3 students, parents, teachers and Principal / Executive body. The exchange began in Term 1, 2007.
The focus was for students to work collaboratively by letter writing, email exchange and inter-school visits. Through these exchanges it was intended that friendships, tolerance and understanding of cultural differences would be fostered.
In Term 1, students from each school were ‘buddied up’, with two students from Sylvania Heights Public School to every one student from Merrylands Public School. Sylvania Heights Public School dispatched the first round of letters introducing themselves with information about their lives, their likes and dislikes and family life.
Early in Term 2, Merrylands Public School students sent responses to the letters and some email exchanges developed from this, with students gradually becoming more responsive and interested in the program and their buddies. The more students learned about each other, the more enthusiastic they became about meeting each other. In May, Sylvania Heights Public School Stage 3 students visited Merrylands Public School. Following the visit, thank you letters were sent from Sylvania Heights Public School and photos of the visit were exchanged through emails.
In Term 3, the letter writing continued with Sylvania Heights Public School inviting Merrylands Public School to their school and to Cronulla Beach. The students from Merrylands visited Sylvania Heights Public School in August. This time, it was the students from Merrylands Public School who wrote to thank Sylvania Heights Public School for hosting the event.
In Term 4, the letter writing and email exchanges continued. Both the survey and student work conducted in response to the exchange demonstrated the benefits and strengths of the program. Friendships were formed, tolerance and understanding of differences was gained along with acknowledgment of the similarities between all students. The organisers had achieved their aims.
Sylvania Heights Public School is located in southern Sydney, close to the Georges River. It has about 500 students. Most students were born in Australia and speak English as a first language. Merrylands Public School is located in western Sydney, close to Parramatta. It has about 300 students, many of whom come from language backgrounds other than English. A significant number of students are recent arrivals.