CMS Hands Across the Border in 15th year

Exchange program faces challenges

Seventh and eighth graders from Cottonwood Middle School and their grade-level peers from Coborca, Mexico, have just completed the first half of their annual exchange program. CMS students and families hosted 24 students and 14 adults from Coborca this past weekend. In April, two-dozen CMS students and their adult chaperones will travel to Coborca.

This is the 15th year for the Hands Across the Border program at CMS. Teacher Rhonda Gonzalez has been involved with the program since the beginning, and she has been the exchange program coordinator for CMS for the past five years.

"It was great," Gonzalez said about the weekend. "It went really well."

She said every year the success of the exchange depends on parents and staff. But this year was beyond what Gonzalez has seen in the past. "It was awesome," she said. "I had a fantastic set of parents. Our parents and staff came through in a really big way."

On Friday night, the school held a welcome ceremony with a potluck and entertainment provided by the CMS band and CMS cheerleaders. Two local organizations, Unlimited Tai Kwan Do and Flip City Gymnastics put on demonstrations.

The students all went to Flagstaff to tube in the snow and cook hot dogs. They also went to the V-Bar-V Ranch to view petroglyphs. "We'll do the same thing in Mexico," Gonzalez said, explaining that the petroglyph study is part of an academic exchange.

Each year, the students spend at least half a day in classrooms at the host school. Bowling at Cliff Castle Casino is always on the activities list. Then, before the visiting students head back to Coborca, the CMS students present them with special T-shirts that all the students sign.

Gonzalez said the passport requirement for travel between the United States and Mexico probably won't hurt the program. She explained that kids under 15 won't be required to have passports, but the adults traveling with them will.

What has hurt the program, Gonzalez said, are the drug wars and kidnappings along the border. She said that in recent years about 80 schools have taken part in the annual exchange program. This year, there were slightly more than 20 schools involved. She said that was one thing she checked out carefully. But it was decided that the exchange program with Coborca would not put the students at risk.

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