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Kimble: School not so different abroad
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"I want to go to school in America."

Every student I meet seems determined to come to the U.S. to go to school. Apparently, all our schools are just like a Disney or Nickelodeon show, according to kids here.

I asked if they all chase animals around like Bindi the Jungle Girl (daughter of Steve Irwin), or dress like the Wiggles, but they still don't quite believe me that schools aren't quite as glamorous as television shows.

It is true, however, that most of our schools don't wear uniforms. In Australia, most students in public schools wear uniforms of school polos or blouses, uniform pants, skirts or shorts, or uniform dresses.

Teachers and support staff also keep an eye on American schools, but through the news. Standardized testing is increasing here, much in the way it has in the U.S. over the last few decades.

Student anxiety levels are rising, and schools with lower test scores are dropping physical education and the arts to teach the tests even more intensively.

Like in the U.S., the testing is meant to serve a great purpose, but they're not so sure the side effects are worth it.

Another interesting thing here is the lack of local sales taxes.

While schools (and local governments) back home rely heavily on the collection of local sales taxes, the same services are run through state or federal taxes.

I spent the last week in and around Perth, which is a little like Atlanta in that I'm referring to a much larger metro area instead of just the city limits.

I met student services workers at Mt. Lawley Senior High School this week as they worked with students to keep things running smoothly.

Students are required to wear uniforms, and while it does help with dress code infractions and general behavior, they say it is actually intended to help the students feel a sense of belonging.

Regardless of income, the students are dressed uniformly, although they do vary hairstyles, makeup and shoes.
There is a cafeteria at this school, but there wasn't a chip (French fry) or processed chicken sandwich is sight - it is primarily healthy, whole foods.

And yes, the cafeteria sold out at lunch!

There are no subsidized meals here, although I hear it is an idea slowly creeping into school systems in the country.

Parents at the school got involved and applied for grant funding to install a physical fitness course and equipment for the use of the entire community, which also resulted in the hiring of one of those parents to work on healthy living initiatives at the school.

Suzie Barnes leads a variety of programs to encourage youth to get active every day, and to increase their fitness.

What I noticed, though, is that her office was quite a popular place. Students dropped by all afternoon to say hello, or have a chat.

Similar to the 4-H Health Rocks! Program, she focuses on much more than just physical fitness, although that is one of her primary goals.

She's also improving the emotional and mental health of students at the same time.

She even leads a glee club at the school, where students bring in a song each week to fit the selected theme, then talk about why they picked it.

They aren't stressing over regionals and such like the kids on the popular American television show, but instead are exploring their feelings through music.

One student, seeming a little down from some situation going on in class, lit up like a light bulb when he told me about the glee club.

I could easily tell that glee club is a place this student felt at home - truly felt like he belonged.

That was especially important to this student, as he is a fee-paying international student. He said he lives with only his older sister as he pursues a better education in Australia.

I have to admit, everyone here has made me feel at home and it is going to be tough to leave.

I haven't been successful in smuggling any cute animals into my luggage yet, but I think I've picked up a lot of insight and tools to apply back home.

Terri Kimble is the Newton County 4-H Agent through UGA Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at (770) 784-2010 or