King James’s School is proud to have forged links with Bebra in Germany and Mongegba in Sierra Leone.
2019 marks a true milestone as this year, King James’s School is proudly celebrating 45 years of the annual school exchange with its partner school, Brüder Grimm Gesamtschule in Knaresborough’s twin town of Bebra.
In the summer of 1974 the first party of German pupils came to visit, but as former languages teacher and UK founder of our school links, Alan Hemsworth remembers, the exchange amost didn’t get off the ground. “We had serious difficulties in finding accommodation for all the pupils and only a last-minute appeal in the local paper saved the day.” In the end two pupils stayed with the local milkman, two with the proprietor of a local coach company and two in a caravan at the bottom of a garden.
A large majority of host families, both in Knaresborough and Bebra are past participants themselves and feel that reciprocating host duties is important for the longevity of our partnership. The Bürgermeister in Bebra who was a driving force of town twinning, supported the school exchange visit, played his host family role as indeed his son and later his grandson took part in the exchange. A student in Year 9 who is hosting a German friend in April 2019 is continuing the family tradition of hosting as her Mum went to Bebra in the 1990’s.
The school’s original aims in promoting the exchange were simple but important, and still hold good today: to promote tolerance, understanding and friendship, and a desire for pupils of all ages to learn a foreign language. In an era when taking a foreign language to GCSE level is no longer compulsory the exchange is still seen by KJS as a key opportunity for students to widen their experience, and the Bebra programme is believed to be one of the longest running in English schools.
There have been some adventures down the years and some lifelong friendships have been forged, between both pupils and staff. The early years saw English coach drivers thinking Bebra was in Belgium, or taking the party on several circuits of industrial Rotterdam. In later years one German group here enjoyed the company of a coach driver who spoke their language and provided valuable insights into English geography and culture – and who just happened to have been a former KJS pupil who was grateful for the chance to have taken part in the exchange himself.
Much has changed in 45 years! Where exchange students used to rely on pen and paper to stay in touch they now keep up friendships via Skype, Facetime and email. Indeed, our host students often ‘meet new friends virtually’ before they meet face to face.
This year, we are looking forward to hosting 22 German students between the ages of 13 and 15 and our students from Years 9 and 10 are eagerly awaiting their arrival. Their visit coincides with a Gala dinner event held in school where there will be opportunity to catch up with old friends, to look back over 45 years of exchange, celebrate this momentous school and community event and to look forward to many more years of friendship with our German friends. Here’s to the next 45 years!
Back in 1983 a former Deputy Head at King James’s, Ken Stone, founded a primary school in Mongegba, Sierra Leone. Along with church support to lease the land, Ken arranged for the Sixth Form to sponsor the school, even paying the salaries of the teachers. The school named itself King James Primary School, Mongegba.
King James’s School Knaresborough has supported the Mongegba school ever since, although direct contact was interrupted during the civil war and always remains challenging due to a lack of electricity, telephone or postal service in the village. Mr Sugden went to Sierra Leone and visited the school in 2008, which was the first significant contact since the end of the civil war. Since that visit we have been able to support the school financially to secure the legal rights to their land.