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Brighton plays host to exchange students from South Korea

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By Crystal Nelson

BRIGHTON — Students at Northeast Elementary School said farewell to new friends on Friday. Over the last month, the school has been hosting four students from South Korea as part of an inaugural student exchange. 

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The exchange came about when friends of Hyunsoon Song, owner of Songs Elite Martial Arts Academy and Vice President of the Korean Association of Colorado, asked her if she had ever thought about a student exchange. Song then approached administrators at the elementary about having students from South Korea participate in an exchange with Northeast while they were on winter break. 

The students, teachers and staff have all found the experience to be a positive one. Fifth-grade teacher AJ McKinney said her students were able to see a different culture that few of them are used to. 

“I have quite a lot of kids who speak another language but they all speak the same language,” she said. “Two thirds of my class speak Spanish but they have never really met anyone who speaks anything besides Spanish or English. To meet somebody from a whole other culture for them has been really, really great.” 

Fifth-grade teacher Emily Tompkins thought the novelty of having an exchange student in her class would wear off after a day or two but it didn’t. McKinney said the students at Northeast wanted to play and interact with the exchange students in whatever activity they were doing. 

During their four weeks at the school fifth-graders Hyeonseo Kang, Jung Yong Woo, Young Kim and sixth-grader Yu Gin, learned English through assignments and Rosetta Stone, made new friends and even celebrated the Korean New Year with their classmates.

They looked forward to lunchtime and couldn’t get enough pizza and chicken but they discovered, however, that they’d rather do without hamburgers, macaroni and cheese, broccoli and green beans. They also enjoyed recess — which they said is usually an hour in South Korea — playing basketball and the amount of freedom they had in moving about the classroom and around the school. 

Fifth grader Jordan Sandoval liked playing basketball with his new friends and said he really liked how they stuck together but were still friendly to everybody. 

Sixth-graders Erika Olson and Dania Enriquez were seated next to Yu Gin in class. Enriquez said she was able to learn some Korean words, and Olson said over they’ve been helping Yu Gin use Rosetta Stone so her English gets better. 

Song said that South Korean students start learning English in the third grade and that their English has improved a lot over the four weeks they have been at the school. 

Northeast Elementary School is in its second year of working towards becoming an authorized International Baccalaureate School and IB Coordinator Bill Parker said the exchange matched the IB program’s mission to grow globally responsible citizens.

“Kids have to be caring, communicate and understand how difficult it is for people from another culture to communicate in another language that’s not their first language,” he said. 

Parker said he loves having the students from South Korea at the school and that although they’re pretty serious when they come to school, he still sees them laughing and giggling and letting loose a little bit. He said the response from students at Northeast is just as important to him.

“I love to hear our kids asking all those questions because our main pedagogical teaching approach is through inquiry,” he said. “So when they’re asking all thee questions and they’re excited about getting answers, that’s powerful to me.” 

Principal Michael Clow said the exchange presented students with opportunities to connect with another culture and it’s something the school would like to continue in the future.