Editor’s note: Occasionally on OPEN, we like to share contributions from students at Avenues. Today’s article comes from Antonio Rivoli, class of 2018, and Sam Boyce, class of 2019.

For the past several weeks, Avenues Upper Division Spanish 5 classes have been communicating with students from Liceo 7, an all-girls school in Santiago, Chile. The project is being coordinated by one of their English teachers, Ms. Rossana Barria Valladares, and Avenues’ own Mrs. Macarena Teixeira of the Spanish department. Students have been emailing back and forth with their digital pen pals, and a handful of them have now begun video chatting with their partners over Skype. The idea of the project is to have students converse in both English and Spanish to practice their second language outside of the classroom, while acting as a sort of linguistic mentor to their pen pals to teach their native language. Not only have students shared personal traits and become closer over various digital media platforms, but they have also begun to peer-edit language assignments and provide each other with opinions, anecdotes and comments.

The Liceo 7 students are excited to gather around their computer as they are introduced to their Avenues digital pen pal class.

The Liceo 7 students are excited to gather around their computer as they are introduced to their Avenues digital pen pal class.

The communication with Liceo 7 began during class time in November, with Avenues students talking with the Liceo 7 students over Skype during their respective language classes. Speaking during class time is a great chance for students to practice their language use in front of a large group of native speakers, an otherwise rare opportunity. After regularly video chatting during class, Avenues and Liceo 7 students were paired off to begin one-to-one communication. (In-class communication still continues, nonetheless.) Some students have chosen email as their method of communication, others Whatsapp and others Skype. Communication outside of class is completely student-led and has benefited Avenues Spanish students by giving them a medium to practice their use of the language outside of class and by also providing them with the unique opportunity to learn quirks of the language that aren’t regularly discussed in class, like Chilean slang.

When the schedule permits, students are able to converse in smaller groups.

When the schedule permits, students are able to converse in smaller groups.

Students’ language skills are put to the test as they discuss life in New York and Santiago, Chile.

Students’ language skills are put to the test as they discuss life in New York and Santiago, Chile.

A large range of topics are discussed by the digital pen pals. While students are free to discuss whatever they would like, they are encouraged to keep it related to the topics being studied in Spanish 5 to ensure discussions are both fun and productive. These topics include personal identity (how we shape it and what factors affect it), communities (and how they affect our personal identities) and the different teaching styles in the two schools. These open-ended themes foster discussions that are functional despite pen pals potentially having little in common.

Avenues Spanish 5 juniors and seniors speak to the Liceo 7 students for the first time and begin exchanging social media accounts for future one-to-one communication.

Avenues Spanish 5 juniors and seniors speak to the Liceo 7 students for the first time and begin exchanging social media accounts for future one-to-one communication.

The online communication between pen pals, however, is just a small part of the connection between the two schools, with goals that far exceed the short term. The Liceo 7 English students are planning a trip to New York during fall 2017 when they will meet their Avenues pen pals in person. We intend to invite the Chilean students to the Avenues campus, tour them around New York and put our language skills to the test in real life. Further down the road, Avenues also is in the planning stages of a mixed science-language trip during the spring break of 2018 where we would visit Liceo 7 and explore Chile. While our trip is unconfirmed, we plan to continue interacting with our contacts throughout the rest of high school and to hopefully see them in person soon!

Two students dress up in pirate hats as they discuss their Halloween plans and the different cultural traditions that exist in America and in Chile.

Two students dress up in pirate hats as they discuss their Halloween plans and the different cultural traditions that exist in America and in Chile.