Students and staff from Byemoor and Big Valley schools, parents and friends gathered at the Byemoor Community Hall to bid farewell to their Grade 9 graduate and the 10 Ontario twins who had been visiting from Cornwall.
Every few years, the Byemoor School takes part in a twinning program that matches up students from at least two provinces apart. Students from one location visit and live with their twins in their home community, before returning home and then playing host to the twins they visited.
This time around, students from Byemoor and a few from Big Valley were twinned with students from Cornwall, Ont. School Sacred Heart.
“The space here is just ‘wow,’” said Sacred Heart teacher Liz McGillis. She accompanied the 10 Cornwall students when they visited Byemoor.
“My sister lives in Calgary but it’s been 20 years since I’ve been to Alberta,” McGillis explained, noting that even then she spent her time in the southern Alberta city rather than in the countryside.
McGillis praised the hospitality of the Byemoor hosts, citing the warm welcome and the many activities planned for the students as highlights.
“It makes me think we could have done more on our side,” she admitted.
The hall had been prepared throughout the day by students from Grade 1-4, and the school provided hamburgers while parents brought in food for a potluck dinner.
The hall was loud with the voices of the students as they had fun on their last day together.
Jaryl Walker, a parent of Grade 8 student Ally, was also one of the foster parents for a Cornwall student.
Ally’s twin was Andrew D’Alessio.
“It’s been just a delight,” she said. “Cornwall has 48,000 people so to come here for them is quite the difference.”
Students had a chance to head up into the mountains and visit Banff, went to Drumheller to visit the Royal Tyrell Museum, and spent time learning farm and ranch activities, like horseback riding. They also went up to Wetaskiwin and Edmonton.
For D’Alessio, it was the first time out west through not the first time on a plane, as it was for many of the students who came out west.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said of Central Alberta. “You have all this land to explore. At night, the stars are so bright.”
He said the wide variety and number of wildlife and farm stock was a surprise to him, something he wasn’t expecting.
“Playing with Ally and her family was the most fun,” he said. “If I could, I would stay longer.”
After a brief visit home, of course, he noted.
Playing host was an odd experience, he said, but one that was a lot of fun. The Cornwall students hosted the Byemoor and Big Valley students first.
“We were able to take them places they’ve never seen, and places some of us had never been,” he said. “It was kind of weird having someone staying in your home that you’ve never met, but it got normal fast.”
The two trips weren’t without trouble, though.
During the Cornwall part of the visit, one student had his glasses knocked off his face. And off the boat. They now reside on the bottom of the Saint Lawrence Seaway.
Here in Stettler, another student, also from Cornwall, broke his arm playing football.
Thirteen-year-old Ben Ross also came out from Cornwall.
“It’s really nice out here,” he said. “It’s really calm compared to city life.”
He said some of the things he’s seen have only made him realize how different Ontario is.
“You only have licence plates on the front (of your vehicles),” he noted, adding that in Ontario there’s plates at both the front and back. “Water fountain faucets are on the left instead of the right.”
He really enjoyed the mountains, he said, adding that they “make you stop and really take a long look.”
“I would do it again – and it’ll be nice to keep in touch,” he said.
Keeping in touch is easier than when she first started her exchanges back when she was a student, McGillis noted. She’s been to Europe as an exchange student when she was the same age as the students she now escorted, and has escorted high schoolers on exchange trips in the past. This is the first time with a group this age, she noted.
“With the Internet and Skype it’s really easy to stay in touch, so I hope these students do,” she said. “When I was a student, it was letters in the post, and we still built life-long friendships.”
Byemoor School this year had only one Grade 9 student heading over to Stettler’s secondary school, William E. Hay Composite High School.
Billy Joe Hawkins, who also took part in the exchange, was feted by school staff and his fellow students, forced to sit on stage while “toasted” by one of his teachers – a gentle roasting from those who knew him.
They teased Hawkins for his smarts – even though he never backed it up by showing his work on his math tests. They also congratulated him on his recent rise to Corporal in the Coronation Air Cadets.
“He’s a Mona Lisa Smile type of kid,” said Gwen Keith, who delivered the toast. “He likes to take things apart to see how they work,” though she added the putting together part was still a work in progress.
She noted that Hawkins had developed the best “chick magnet” around:
“If you put a yo-yo in his hand, he attracts girls like a moth to a flame.”
See a photo of the kids in this week’s Byemoor/Endiang News column.