Exchanges are a good way of understanding more about America too says Keith Budge, Headmaster of Bedales Schools in Hampshire. One of many international links is with The Putney School in Vermont, a progressive secondary boarding and day school on a 500-acre dairy farm. “Children benefit from being in an environment with colourful and interesting people,” he says. “One of the favourite words in New England is frugal, and Putney is warm, earthy and utterly authentic. If the duty team of students doesn’t get up and light the cooker, there will be no porridge. In our school, many students are entranced by the digital world and swept off in the supposed glamour of celebrity, but in this situation you have to make human contact with people who are very different: it’s very grounding.”
Bedales sends a student group for a 12-day visit to the school each year, and takes several Putney students for a term. The link helped further inspire the school’s outdoor work programme in the UK, including animal husbandry, blacksmithing and weaving. Michael Rice, 16, who went to exam-free Putney last year, is keen to add another idea at Bedales: “At the end of term, every person did any project they wanted, and was given a rating – and some of them have left school and started businesses already,” he says.
Todd Lengacher, director of intercultural programs at The Putney School, says Bedales pupils do seem surprised at their “apparent casual nature”, especially “spacious” days of three classes plus activities such as milking the cows. But such exchanges, he believes, are vital. “I often look at world leaders, in particular some of my country’s leaders, and have to believe that they would see the people from beyond our borders in a different – more empathetic – way if they had taken these kinds of exchange opportunities in high school. Our world is a better place for every interaction we push ourselves to have with people not ‘like’ us.”
By Senay Boztas