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In 1992, a small community to community exchange took place between Parkersburg, West Virginia and Kaliningrad, Moscow Region, Russia. This exchange was perpetuated by a NASA teacher in space finalist and leadership in the Russian Space Agency. This exchange could have ended, as many do, as a nice time for the participants and sweet memories of learning about a new country that was formerly banned by the government. Instead, something magical happened. During the year, Governor Gaston Caperton supported several initiatives that involved Russia and In January 1993, a delegation of 25, representing various entities (State Department of Education, Universities, State Legislature, Law Offices, Libraries, etc.) and a young newspaper reporter left for an official visit to Russia. The reporter, Eric Douglas, was able to record much of the wonder and excitement of that visit and later wrote a book about the development of the country. This delegation determined that this Foundation be organized so that the children and grandchildren would never be tempted to believe propaganda that was perpetuated to create enemies.This exchange exploded into a Foundation that has supported over 400 exchanges focusing on the area of education, business, culture and community. The exchanges have become progressively more involved and complex. The ultimate is now the exchange that no one in America has attempted, "The Russia School in America." When the Russia School in America was first suggested, the site was considered and only one option was appropriate, West Virginia State College. The College had hosted The Governor's Honors Academy and had proven that it was a site that was compatible to accommodating high school students. In addition, Dr. Charlotte Giles, Dean, was an administrator who understood attention to detail. More importantly, Dr. Giles shared her warm heart in reaching out to help others and she had exhibited her ability to work with foreign students and educators. If the Russia School in America was to be successful, West Virginia State College needed to be the first site. On October 5, 1997, forty-one Russian students and 10 Russian teachers arrived at West Virginia State College ready to embark on this new adventure. The students ranged in age from 12 to 17 and continued with their classes that had begun in Russia. Besides Chemistry, Biology, Geography, History, Russian, Mathematics, Physical Education and other Russian subjects, the students participated in American Cultures, English As a Second Language and Computers. They visited schools, glass plants, historical sites, hospitals, cultural presentations, banks, Halloween parties, Thanksgiving dinners and generally learned about America life - first-hand. Their happiest moments were spent in the homes of their West Virginia families. The success of this project can be judged by the products - the products for this exchange are the academic challenges and learning of the students. This learning was exemplified during the last week when the students presented their research reports that had been written in English and Russian. The students were also required to answer questions in English and to generally discuss their academic studies in America. The results were astounding. According to the students and teachers, the students learning far exceeded that which would have occurred in Russia. The gains in the academic arena were complemented with the gains in the areas of American Culture and English. It would have been impossible to absorb this information unless the students could absolutely be immersed in the culture. The West Virginia families who opened their homes and their hearts to these students have now opened a window of global knowledge for themselves. The elation of success that we all feel can be surmised in one statement, "The next group will arrive in February."
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