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Letter: Exchange student reflects on school in Crailsheim

Hello Worthington! Well, January has already come and gone, a month much quieter than December. Christmas vacation lasted until the seventh of January, so I had a pretty nice break from school. Because this month was pretty quiet, I think I'll give you more detail about school in Germany.

In the Mertens family we take the car to school, usually leaving about 6:55 a.m. School starts at 7:25 a.m. My school is about 10 years old, and all of the normal classrooms have tables and chairs. One thing that really surprised me, especially since it's a pretty new school, is that they have only chalkboards in the classrooms -- that's right, chalkboards. It's everything they need. The school is made almost entirely of concrete, with usually an entire wall of windows in each room. In case of a fire, the entrances/exits are structurally guaranteed for a minimum of one and a half hours in a constant blaze. The school is fascinatingly built; it's really quite impressive.

My classes are different everyday, but most of the time we stay in the same room and the teachers come to us, except with the science and chemistry courses. The science classes are my favorite subjects, and I find the science rooms to be very well equipped. Most of them have a projector. We've done some pretty cool things with science here -- even turned candle wax into gasoline! Classes are only 45 minutes long, but sometimes I will have two hours of the same class, so then it's more like Worthington's 90-minute blocks. I have a total of 15 different subjects, ranging from math and science to art and religion.

Not every student gets out of school at the same time. Here's how a typical day for me goes. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday mornings I have two classes of German followed by a 15-minute break, then science and science with one more 15-minute break. After that come two more classes, math and religion, and then I'm done with school at this time, 12:40. On Monday and Friday I get a 45-minute lunch break. One day a week I eat out with friends, and on the other I go to my brothers' grandparents. Grandma makes whatever I like, and there the food is really good! Mondays I have school until 4, and Thursdays I finish at 10 past 3. After school we take the public transport buses home, and man those things can get crowded! You wouldn't believe how many people can fit on a bus! It's only really full one or two days a week.

In Germany, there are three levels of schools, Hauptschule, Realschule and the Gymnasium. The Hauptschule is the bottom-level school moving at a slower pace. After this school, most of the kids will take up an apprenticeship somewhere. The Realschule is in the middle, and will most likely lead to a higher-level vocational school, but students can enroll in a Gymnasium if they graduate with good grades. The Gymnasium is the top level and prepares students to study at a university. To get placed in a school, students take a test at the end of fourth grade that decides which school they will go to. However, a couple of years ago, the test was changed to a "recommendation," and now the parents can decide which school they want to send their children to.

Here school is year-round with a six-week summer break, and smaller breaks scattered throughout the year. There are no extra-curricular activities offered through the school like music, sports, the arts or clubs. One thing that's really different is the behavior of my fellow students. Going to a Gymnasium, I see the best students in Germany, but even the lowest learning level students are self-motivated and are there to learn. Kids really don't mess around that much, and if they do, they are simply escorted out of class. What they miss in class is their loss, and it reflects on their grade.

Next month I'll be spending a week of practical work, which every student at my school does in the 10th grade. I'll be doing mine with different places in the city of Crailsheim. This gives students the chance to learn about a career to see if it's something they would like to pursue. After that I'm going skiing in the Austrian Alps for a week and a half. I'll let you know how my work and skiing go!