Steamboat Springs By the time students enter eighth grade in Steamboat Springs, many have been in school with the same group of students since kindergarten or even preschool. Some of these kids practically are drooling at the opportunity to be exposed to life outside of sheltered Steamboat.
For the past 20 years, the Steamboat Springs Middle School has collaborated with Helenelundsskolan, a kindergarten through ninth-grade school in Sollentuna, Sweden, for an annual short-term exchange. The program began as a teacher exchange, and after four years, evolved into a student exchange.
Each year, about 30 girls and eight boys in seventh grade apply for a chance to travel to Sweden the following year. The four girls and four boys who are selected for the honor each are paired with a Swedish student.
The exchange begins around mid-February with the Swedish students and chaperone arriving in Steamboat. The students live with their “partner” in Steamboat for three weeks, and in mid-April, the Steamboat students and chaperone enjoy the same experience in Sollentuna.
“The initial goal was to reach out and try to bring worldly experiences and cultural exchange to our rural students,” said seventh grade English teacher Jeff Ruff, who participated in the first round of the teacher exchange in 1995.
According to Ruff, this program has allowed students to gain life experiences and make powerful bonds from a young age, and the friendships that are formed between the students are unbreakable, enduring many years beyond the original exchange.
“It’s an awesome and powerful thing,” Steamboat Springs Middle School Principal Jerry Buelter said.
Not only has the program affected the students, it has altered the teachers’ lives, as well.
Marin Shanahan, SSMS Spanish teacher and Swedish liaison for this year’s exchange, said, “I feel that I have already made lifelong friends with the Swedish chaperone. I am excited to continue our relationship for many years to come and to further develop our friendship.”
However, the act of planning and coordinating between schools is no small feat. At SSMS, all of the past chaperones combine efforts in a sort of “club” to make the trip as successful as possible, but in Sollentuna, there is a defined group of teachers who plan the exchange from start to finish.
“Unfortunately, those who have been instrumental in keeping the experience alive have now retired,” Buelter said.
Helenelundsskolan has tried to find a replacement, but without success. As a result, the program, like all good things, must come to an end.
“It just doesn’t look like we can sustain it,” Buelter said.
The Swedish group selected for this year’s cycle recently left Steamboat; they will be the last group to participate in the program. These students experienced Steamboat to its fullest, visiting Strawberry Park Hot Springs, tubing at Saddleback Ranch and even building an igloo.
“The experience has been very good and positive,” Luke Borgerding, an eighth grader currently in the program said. “[My student] and I are very close now, and I look forward to meeting new people and having a blast in Sweden.”
Borgerding and the rest of the Steamboat crew leave for Sweden on April 17.
Buelter said that though the middle school is losing an incredible program, there still are many opportunities for students to travel. Annual and biennial trips to places such as Costa Rica, Italy, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez and possibly Washington, D.C., also are offered to SSMS students.
“The middle school might not need to replace the program,” Ruff said. “The end goal of the program was broadening student’s experiences so they can relate those experiences to their continued learning. This can still be accomplished through the offered programs.”
Marley Loomis, a senior at Steamboat Springs High School, is working as an intern with the Steamboat Today. She also wrote about her experience with the exchange program.