methow grist 2011-2014 archive

East Meets West
Annual student visit opens eyes

After a 51-hour train trip from Dearborn, Michigan, six high school students and eight teachers arrived in the Methow Valley this week to experience rural life and to tell Methow students about living in a big Eastern city.

Their story is especially compelling because they hail from Fordson High School, where 95 percent of the 2,500-member student body is of Middle Eastern descent and speak 37 different languages. Dearborn has the largest Middle Eastern community outside the Middle East. Liberty Bell High School, in contrast, has 270 students in grades 7 through 12, and most are Caucasian.

photo of visiting studentsFordson High School students from left: Alana Turfa, Stephen Gichie, Ali Mourad, Sean Levine (back row), Ali D. Bazzi, Ali H. Bazzi, Mo Stackpoole, faculty coordinator.

Their first stop Monday morning was in the classroom of social studies teacher Rocky Kulsrud, where the students engaged in a lively discussion about daily life in the Methow and Dearborn.

“It presents some really interesting cultural exchanges with our kids,” Kulsrud told Grist.

“There is no fast food” in the valley, the Liberty Bell seniors informed their incredulous visitors, and students drive up to six hours to participate in league sports tournaments and as far as 30 miles to get to school. They park their cars free in the school parking lot and can safely leave their keys in their cars. Many locals never even lock their doors at night, they were told. “The only attempted break-in we’ve had is when a coyote came down to our house,” quipped one Liberty Bell boy.

With apparent stoicism, the city kids absorbed the news that poisonous snakes as well as bears and cougars live here. A “Wow!” moment came when the Fordson students, whose homes typically sit on 40-foot lots, learned how many of the Liberty Bell kids live on more than six acres of land.

photoPat Baron, former history teacher at Fordson High School in Dearborn, Michigan. She started the student visits.

The Fordson students explained that their school is so large that the graduating class is the size of the entire population of Twisp and it takes three lunch shifts in their cafeteria to feed everyone. Halal food is available in the cafeteria, they added, which led to an explanation of how any animal that’s slaughtered must be painlessly dispatched, with prayers said.

Football is big at Fordson, the students related, and a brief film clip of an acclaimed documentary themed “Faith, Fasting and Football” that recounted the team’s exploits was shown. The players practiced from 9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. even during times of fasting, when drinking water is forbidden.

Asked if Fordson has any problems with racial conflicts between students, Alana Turfa joked, to much laughter: “There is one Jewish person but we are not allowed to know who it is.” The only girl in the group of visitors, she explained that many Arabic parents are reluctant to allow their daughters to travel without their families.

The visit marked the first time in five years that Fordson has sent students here. Some of the seniors in Kulsrud’s class said they still remember Fordson students coming to their 6th grade classes to tell them about Michigan. Part of the Fordson group’s experience here is teaching Methow elementary students about Michigan history and the Great Lakes.

Also on the visitors’ itinerary were line dancing lessons at The Grange in Twisp, snowshoeing, a trail ride at Sun Mountain Lodge, and a private tour of the Shafer Museum led by Carl Miller, plus visits to the smoke jumper base, a fish hatchery and Falls Creek for a picnic.

The visits started in 1991 after Pat Baron, a history teacher at Fordson, spent summers here in the back country with outfitter Claude Miller and became acquainted with his cook, Ann Henry, who happened to be on the school board. On their first day here this week Henry, 81, led the students on a hike at Pearrygin Lake State Park.

“I’d like to have my students see something like this,” Baron, now retired but along for this year’s visit, recalls telling Henry years ago. Baron told the right person on this end, and when things got organized on the other end, the annual student visits from Dearborn began.


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