The chatter was a little louder than usual and the hallways a bit more crowded at Whitehall Yearling High School as 72 students from two other districts visited last week.

The Feb. 1 gathering was a reunion of sorts for the 48 students from Whitehall-Yearling, 32 students from Worthington Kilbourne High School and 40 from Shenandoah High School in the Noble Local School District, about 30 miles southeast of Zanesville.

The students first gathered at Shenandoah High School in early November. Whitehall-Yearling was the second stop on the tour; the students tentatively are scheduled to meet April 17 at Worthington Kilbourne.

It's all part of Culture Shook, a cultural-exchange program organized by Paul Smathers, principal of Whitehall-Yearling; Aric Thomas, principal of Worthington Kilbourne; and Dan Leffingwell, superintendent of Noble Local.

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They represent urban, suburban and rural school districts, respectively.

"At Whitehall-Yearling High School, we celebrate diversity," Smathers said, adding the focus of the cultural-exchange program also was to discover similarities.

Shenandoah High School, as the rural district, perhaps has greater contrasts to share and learn, but students still discovered they're more alike than different.

Whitehall-Yearling senior Tyanna Mitchell said the fall visit to Shenandoah and the surrounding countryside is one she won't soon forget.

"There were so many hills and pastures, and someone should have warned me about what kind of shoes to wear," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the trip also provided her the experience of helping perform an ultrasound on a pregnant cow at an Ohio State University research farm near the high school.

“I met some of (Shenandoah’s) basketball players and we clicked about that,” said Mitchell, a former basketball player for the Rams.

“Our district has 289 square miles, 900 (K-12) students and no stoplights,” said Leffingwell, who reminisced with Mitchell last week about her experience using the ultrasound machine.

Mitchell led a tour of Whitehall-Yearling’s three-floor high school that opened in 2013 – an expanse that dwarfs Shenandoah and even raised the eyebrows of the students from Worthington Kilbourne.

“It’s a bigger area to walk through to get between classes,” said Carson Dougherty, a junior at Kilbourne.

Thomas said his students visited classrooms, the library, science labs and other parts of the school on the tour led by Mitchell and other Whitehall-Yearling students.

"We're trying to bridge the cultural gap to try to help students understand that they're more alike than different, especially in our current political state where politicians and media are trying to pull us apart," he said. "Worthington wants to create a culture of empathy and (Whitehall-Yearling and Shenandoah) wanted to create a culture of hope.

"We don't have a political agenda or anything like that. It's just more about fostering relationships."

The students took note of the relationships aspect.

“The main difference I noticed was how the teachers interact differently with students than at Kilbourne ... they act a little more casually and friendly,” said Jessica Lawrence, a Kilbourne junior.

Kilbourne junior Nick Streets said while he saw many similarities, he also noticed the differences in the layouts between Whitehall and Worthington and the interaction between teachers and students.

Carson Dougherty, another Kilbourne junior, said the classrooms at his school are evenly dispersed throughout the building, but in parts of Whitehall-Yearling, only juniors and seniors attend classes.

Kenzie Carpenter, a junior at Shenandoah, said although visiting Whitehall last week “deepened her appreciation” for her rural lifestyle, she still enjoys visits to large cities.

After the tour of Whitehall-Yearling, the students boarded buses and drove through Bexley and parts of Columbus.

“We stopped at the North Market and let the kids wander and get lunch,” said Smathers.

The group also toured Nationwide Arena.

“The North Market was awesome,” said Carpenter, who said she enjoyed sampling Thai and Mexican fare.

In speaking with other students, Carpenter said, she discovered even when their differences were notable, it was easy to find common ground.

“We talked about hangouts and what we do after football games,” she said. “They go out to (Buffalo Wild Wings) after games and we do, too, but they go around the corner and we drive 30 minutes.”

Smathers said he considers the program a success in its effort “to understand similarities and differences and to honor and celebrate each.”

Thomas said organizers “don’t want this to just be a one-year thing” and are thinking about doing service projects with all three schools.

ThisWeek reporter Andrew King contributed to this story.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo