EVANS CITY — Lea and Tessa Meimerstorf felt at home observing Danielle Fagan's kindergarten class at Evans City Elementary School — and not just because the name of that grade is in their native tongue, German.
The two sisters came to Jackson Township from Lueneburg, Germany, about 30 miles south of Hamburg, because Lea studied at the district for one semester in 2010.
“My host parents, from that time, we always stayed really close to them and we kept on visiting them,” Lea said. “So we contacted them and asked them if we could stay with them for those three months.”
They spent their time in the Seneca Valley district not studying, or student teaching, but observing.
“I didn't really go here to teach, because I know what my teaching style is like, and I didn't want to just come here and then teach the way I always teach,” Lea said. “But, for me, it was good to just sit there and watch them and learn from them instead of doing my own thing.”
Both sisters are in a degree program at Leuphana University, where they study primary education and English as a second language.
That program requires them to spend three months in an English-speaking country, immersing themselves in the culture. So for the Meimerstorfs, being at Seneca was a no-brainer.
“This is actually the fourth time for both of us to be here,” Tessa added.
Lea said she thought the difference between American and German schools — besides, of course, the language — was eye-opening.
“Your entire mindset is different,” she said. “Like, the teachers here, it's not that much about, 'OK, restrictions, rules, you have to do this.' No ... it's more, 'we have to be that good of a teacher to interest them that they decide they want to learn this.' ”
As for other differences in the educational systems, elementary schoolers would agree with them on at least one thing: More recess is better. And perhaps the more controversial statement that American schoolchildren have longer attention spans.
Lea said she's used to a system where kids have a 20- to 25-minute break following every second class, allowing time for them to stretch their legs and “run around.”
“We were like, 'Wow, they're so little. They should be kids, just running around, and they have to concentrate for such a long time,'” she said. “But they're having fun doing it. It's amazing.”
As for other differences in the country, Tessa Meimerstorf said she was amazed by the car-centric culture of Jackson Township and surrounding areas.
“You spend a lot of time just in the car because you have to go a long way to, for example, the grocery store or something,” she said. “And our grocery store (in Germany) is next door.”
The sisters seemed to agree that, despite their experiences in southern Butler County, they enjoy spending much more time outside than they have here.
“I'm really looking forward to riding my bike again,” Lea said.