Stayin' Alive! German & Kutztown students rally for Heart Health and Spirit

Patriot photo by Roxanne Richardson

Visiting German students got a chance to participate in Kutztown High School’s pep rally with the heart-healthy message of Stayin Alive on April 10.

The students were treated to a surprise performance by teachers and their principal, Rebecca Beidelman, to Stayin Alive, a pop disco hit by the Bee Gees in 1977 from the motion picture soundtrack, “Saturday Night Fever.”

iThe school raised more than $500 for the American Heart Association by buying red Rock the Beat t-shirts which students and teachers wore that day.

“We’re putting some of that into it so we can be charitable, we can be spirited and all those things,” said Suzanne Mixa, math teacher and student council advisor. “Stayin Alive is the American Heart Association’s theme song because you do CPR to that song.”

The pep rally was an opportunity to let students know that heart disease can affect them as well. Mixa said that 200,000 high school athletes die from sudden cardiac arrest every year. After offering facts and tips for better awareness, Mixa joined the teachers in her choreographed version of disco moves.

Mixa also said rallying is about school spirit and fun things which included giving the German students a taste of American T.V. show games following the teacher’s performances and pep talks from the captains of the various team sports.

“We’re going to try and give our visitors one more taste of some American fun by having them join in some silly games,” said Kayla Fusselman, student council member and president of Kutztown FFA.

Teams of German students and their American hosts had to shake ping pong balls from a box tied to their backs, move a cup from the bottom of a stack to the top, glide across stage on their butts and rip tissues from a box. Awards were bestowed to the highest point earners.

“It’s such a worthwhile experience for the kids on both sides of the ocean. The German students get to come and see what it’s like to live with an American family and see what daily life is like here and also experience a lot about our educational system and the American students get to practice their German skills and learn from their visitors about what is different between the two cultures,” said Randall Wert, world language teacher.

“It’s great because I can see kind of another world. It’s not that different,” said sophomore Julia Spielbrink, of Kassel, Germany. “Everything is a bit bigger.”

“Just seeing how not different they really are,” said Kutztown ninth grader Emily Fenstermacher. “There are so many similarities between all of us. We all like to do the same things after school like going to the mall. I’ve learned mostly about their culture and how their schools work just from talking to her more than I thought I was going to learn coming into this.”

According to Kutztown junior Philip Moyer, it’s the interaction between all the students that helps one another learn. The Kutztown students were able to improve their German speech, learn firsthand about their culture, and hear their input on how their classes compare to what they were learning while at Kutztown.

Although there is a level of difficulty in organizing a visitation from other countries, with help from hosting families and the families of the visiting students, the program is going strong after five years.

“It is really the hospitality and generosity of our host families that make the visits so successful. They go far out of their way (figuratively and literally) to make the experience worthwhile and enjoyable for their German guests. The support and flexibility of my administrators and fellow teachers also make our visitors feel welcome and involved in our school life. Finally, the visits are also enriched by the friendly way in which our entire student body receives the visitors here at Kutztown,” said Wert.

“It really gets you a greater perspective on things because Kutztown is really small and it’s easy to get absorbed in here. Having someone come from so far away with a whole different background is really refreshing,” said Kutztown junior Jacqui Bispels.

Bispels’ guests, Max Ellendt and Leon Kanwischer, found it challenging speaking English so others could understand them. She and her family took the boys to New York, Laser Quest in Wyomissing, ice hockey games, and Fifth Street in Reading to sample all the different fast food places with KFC being a favorite.

While Bispels said one of the things she would love to see is the longer lasting relationships the Germans seem to have in school as compared to the quick flings found here, Kanwischer said he would love to have the same lessons every day. In Germany, each day is a different lesson and then starts over again at the beginning of the week so they only get each class once a week.

“The people are so nice,” said German sophomore Vivien Schäffer.

Schäffer and her hostess, Shelby Kuchenbrod, eleventh grade, went to New York, shopping at the Lehigh Valley Mall, caught a movie at the cinema, and caught an Iron Pig game against the Red Sox. Schäffer found the food to be more fattening and sweeter than what she was used to. She said they don’t eat as much fast food. They only have a few of the bigger brand names such as McDonalds and Arby’s.

“I’ve taken five years of German so far, but the little conversational kind of idiosyncrasies I’ve been able to talk with her and learn that through speaking them with her,” said Kuchenbrod. “I’m thinking about doing it for two weeks next year as an exchange student.”

Wert said they are currently working towards sending a few Kutztown students to Kassel, Germany where their visitors are from.