Huntley High School recently hosted a delegation of 30 students and teachers from the Philippine Youth Leadership Program (PYLP), a four-week exchange program on responsible citizenship, community service leadership and action plan development put on in coordination with the U.S. State Department and Northern Illinois University.
The group visited HHS to learn about American education and culture, tour the building, and shadow students and teachers.
“Part of the goal of the PYLP program is including visits to American high schools in order to meet and discuss topics with students, shadow, and understand the differences in education,” said Anne Sharkey, a social studies teacher who along with fellow HHS teacher Clay Henricksen traveled to the Philippines last year as part of a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad program. “We hope that not only were the Filipino students able to gain an insight into schools but also to make a connection with our students.”
The visiting group came from Mindanao, an area of the Philippines under conflict. Much of the program’s aim was to bring together students not only to have common experiences together as Indigenous, Muslim, and Christian populations but also to gain insight into the American system to create a connection.
Wricleigh Benito, a 17-year-old student, said he applied for the program for the chance to visit the U.S. and learn about American culture. He was impressed with the academic and physical environment at HHS, which he said mirrored the collegiate environment in the Philippines more than secondary schools.
“The facilities are great, the system is organized, and people are very well-mannered,” he said.
Yami Edris, a 15-year-old participant, said she was one of about 400 applicants for the 30 spots. She was happy to experience the educational culture of the U.S., which she noted offered more variety in classes and subjects.
“It’s quite different from in my country,” she said. “Here you get to choose classes. In the Philippines, these are the same for everyone.”
The PYLP, which is in its 13th year, also focuses on environmental concerns and peace building with a great emphasis on leadership and service, activities that align naturally with many HHS initiatives.
“I think our students not only got the chance to meet their peers from elsewhere in the world, but also had the chance to see a glimpse into the Filipino student’s lives through their discussions,” Sharkey said. “It is also a good opportunity for our students to get a chance to show off everything we do have at HHS as high school students can take a lot for granted. The conversations that they had were something that cannot be replaced and it isn’t often that the students have the chance to speak with individuals from such a different culture.”
In addition to the student activities, four educators took part in the trip and had the opportunity to exchange professional insights with HHS staff.
“It proved to be a powerful conversation in which both sides were able to offer solutions to some of the challenges that educators and community workers face,” Sharkey said. “It was especially rewarding for the administration to be able to hear the stories of the visitors from the Philippines and that despite the challenges they face, they are dedicated to improving the lives of those around them.
Sharkey said the school will continue to work with NIU and the State Department in hopes of continuing a partnership in the future.