EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Costa Rican students Maria Alfaru (left), 10, and Diego Berenes (center), 10, look over the nursing classroom with St. John Paul II student Dax Peanosky (right), 11, during a tour of NWTC Thursday in Marinette.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

Costa Rican students Maria Alfaru (left), 10, and Diego Berenes (center), 10, look over the nursing classroom with St. John Paul II student Dax Peanosky (right), 11, during a tour of NWTC Thursday in Marinette.

MENOMINEE — This week, five elementary school students came to St. John Paul II Academy from Costa Rica through the International School-to-School Experience (ISSE).

According to Principal Michael Muhs, JP2 Academy has been a member school in ISSE for two years now. He said during the summer, the member schools from the other countries involved send representatives to a large group convention to meet and determine which schools will partner with each other. “There’s only seven or eight schools involved every year in the United States in a given year, but we have partnerships with schools all over South America, the Pacific, Asia and North America, including Mesoamerica, and this is only our second year,” he said.

Muhs said the program began in 1980. Before getting involved with ISSE, he said JP2 already has had informal exchanges, seeing students from seven to 10 different countries in a given year regularly coming through the doors. Using some of the connections the school has made in Mexico, Muhs said the school wanted to formalize their exchanges with an official program with a good track record to receive more students and standardize the process.

“It’s a unique program because it’s available for middle-school age students. There aren’t many programs that are short home-stay experience for students in this age range, and that’s a strategic age range to target. This is short and young, and it’s specifically so, so that the students have an experience that’s unvarnished and authentic; they’re not projecting stereotypes at that age yet,” he said.

He said this weekend will be the first true weekend in the U.S. for the Costa Rican students. He said they arrived late Sunday night, and throughout the week attended classes and visited places in the area, including a trip to NWTC on Thursday with their American classmates to tour the school and get an idea of what college could look like for them. He also said the students visited Stephenson Public Library to speak with a group of local home-school families about their home countries as well. “We fully recognize that they’re guests in our community, and our community is more than just our school,” Muhs said.

Next week, Muhs said the exchange students will get to participate in Catholic Schools Week celebrations at the school, which will include special dress-up days, films, tubing, bowling and special fundraising activities for St. Vincent de Paul and Bay Area Pregnancy Services, departing for Costa Rica on Sunday and beginning classes in their next grade level next week. He said this coming spring break, there will be students from JP2 traveling to St. Anthony School in Costa Rica with faculty members as chaperones to have the same experience. “Our typical exchange date crosses into spring break, so they’ll be in classrooms and not on a beach,” he said.

“We are a Catholic school. ‘Catholic’ refers to ‘universal;’ Catholic doesn’t have boundaries, it doesn’t exclude anyone, and so this is an effort for inclusion. So we’re grateful for the opportunity and the community, who have helped us raise funds to be able to send kids who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford to travel. Just like we give away a ton of money in tuition assistance for families, we strive to make this something all students can achieve and experience,” Muhs said, “And we’re already seeing the fruits of these exchanges.”