Australian visitors help celebrate school's 60 years of international connections

When Withernsea High School officially opened in April 1955, it brought together students of all abilities and backgrounds from an array of villages throughout Holderness. From its inception, the school has sought to build strong connections both in its locality and further afield in the international community - its inclusive ethos extending far beyond the classrooms. 

It’s therefore no surprise to learn that amongst the guests at the official opening ceremony were visiting dignitaries from Holland and Nigeria. Earlier that same month a group of German Youth Leaders had visited the new school and as the 1960s approached, the school's log book reveals a steady stream of visitors from a large number of countries throughout Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas.

60 years on and the school's international links still remain strong, a fact which was reinforced in its anniversary week as it hosted a 6 day visit of staff and students from Clare High School in South Australia. It was their second such visit to Withernsea, the first having been in 2013 when a long-established biennial trip to Ireland was extended to include England. The British extension came through a link forged by former Withernsea High School teacher Rachelle Maynard who has taught at Clare High since emigrating in 2008.

Host families accommodated the 12 students and 3 staff during their visit, providing a home from home environment and an opportunity for the Australian students to experience a taste of British family life. Parent Sue Simmonds, whose daughter Samantha was one of the 10 Withernsea student hosts, said: "I think overseas trips and exchanges are a fantastic idea and I was really pleased when Sammie told me that she had the possibility to host an Australian visitor. We were delighted to hear that Amy Watson was going to come and stay with us. It was a thoroughly enjoyable few days and it was great to get an insight into Amy’s life in Australia. She fitted in with all of us and enjoyed getting a taste of Roos and the surrounding area.”

Organisation of the visit from the Withernsea end was led by Geography teacher Bryony Shelby who helped pair the two groups of students together using detailed profiles of their interests and hobbies to ensure a positive match.  Bryony commented: “This was a very successful second visit by Clare High School. Our students embraced the opportunity and I am so proud of how welcoming and friendly they were towards their Australian partners, I know some have made friends for life. Opportunities like these are fabulous for Withernsea High School and its students. I am pleased to see this partnership growing and I am looking forward to their return in 2017.”

Throughout their short but memorable stay in East Yorkshire the group engaged in a range of geographical, historical and cultural activities. In school they were given a tour of the campus by their host buddies and were actively involved in lessons – running cultural workshops on Australian life for Year 7 students. Out of school, they took in the local sights with a visit up the lighthouse and a walk along the beach from Withernsea to Holmpton, where they studied fossils on the beach and learned about the coastal erosion that affects our area. A day trip to York saw them visit the Roman Baths and Yorvik Centre where they were able to soak up the long and rich history of the city.

Trip-leader Rachelle Maynard said: “We wish to thank the Withernsea High School community on welcoming our second tour group to their school and in some cases homes.This experience is of huge value to our students and gives them an amazing opportunity to experience life on the other side of the world. We would like to extend our extreme appreciation to Bryony Shelby for organising the Withernsea end of the exchange and we'd also like to thank the weather for staying sunny for our whole visit!”

16 year old Clare High School student Jasmin McElroy added: “Everyone at the school was very welcoming and nice to all of us. I have had so much fun meeting new people and learning about the history of Withernsea and the places that surround it. I also enjoyed teaching people about Australia, especially the Year 7 group I was placed in. Thanks so much for having me!”

It is hoped that a group of students from Withernsea may one day be able to head down under to take part in a similar kind of visit.