TNCS Elementary Skypes with Students from other Countries!

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Señora Hodapp and her upper elementary Spanish class hold their first Skype call with the Colegio Margaret Mead in Peru.

This spring, The New Century School elementary students began an exciting new multilingual endeavor—connecting with other students and schools around the world via Skype! This program is the fruit of the joint efforts of TNCS Director of External Programming Catalina Dansberger Duque and the school’s Language Directors Jennifer Hodapp and Xie Laoshi. Ms. Dansberger Duque credits the germ of the idea to TNCS Co-Founders/Executive Directors Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner, however, saying, “I believe it is part of their mission to connect TNCS with world culture and create authentic experiences for the students.”

Other cross-cultural exchanges are also potentially in the works, such as with summer camps with both Spanish and China through groups like Each Futures, who TNCS has worked with in prior years to bring Chinese students to the school. “They have also had individual student exchanges from Spain and China that were very rewarding for everyone,” said Ms. Dansberger Duque. To augment these efforts, Ms. Dansberger Duque has been developing a program for visiting Chinese students to attend TNCS for 2 weeks, with classroom time and tours of nearby historic points of interest, with the help of TNCS Chinese intern Monica Li.
The next step was to expand such efforts to Latin America. Ms. Dansberger Duque and Ms. Li came up with the idea for a series of Skype chats as a way to launch their bigger programs. These could take the form of class to class, teacher to teacher, family to family, etc. “The idea behind the chats is to provide options for schools to build a relationship with us that would instill trust and inspire families to come visit us and vice versa,” said Ms. Dansberger Duque. As it is turning out, though, the Skype chats are in and of themselves an enormously beneficial way to make languages and cultures come alive for TNCS students.

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Intercambio internacional—everyone was all smiles for this fun and rewarding class!

As a native of Bogotà, Colombia, Ms. Dansberger Duque has a deep understanding of Latin American culture and was able to prospect 14 schools across Central and South America and the Caribbean that were both Montessori based and/or multilingual as well as interested in building a relationship with TNCS. “The first school I found was the Montessori British School in Bogotà, Colombia. They teach Spanish, French, English, and Mandarin. They already have an established exchange program with China and are interested in setting one up with us. The Colegio Margaret Mead in Peru, while having maybe the least amount of technology resources compared to some of the other schools I contacted, was the first one to come through and commit to a specific date and time to do a classroom chat,” she said.
As mentioned, Colegio Margaret Mead was the first school TNCS students connected with, and the unqualified success of this chat will pave the way for regular exchanges of this kind. On Thursday, April 30th, TNCS 3rd- and 4th-graders gathered to find out all about their new Peruvian friends. They were each prepared with written questions and took turns in front of the screen, as did the students on the other end.
Señora Hodapp facilitated and also provided the sometimes necessary encouragement when a student got stuck. “Our students were shy but also very excited!” she reported. “We will also start an in-class pen pal program with the Margaret Mead School.”

One especially rich moment was when the Peruvian students asked TNCS students in Spanish how to say “hello” in Mandarin. Think about that for a moment, because it’s tremendously impressive that TNCS students can field a question in one non-native language about a separate non-native language altogether.

But, as the ever-diplomatic Ms. Dansberger Duque reminds us, this endeavor has much larger implications than just the cognitive acrobatics necessary to manage more than one language:
I think this program is important for TNCS students because it is through meeting people of other cultures that people build bridges. By promoting an international language and cultural community students become accustomed to a world view of inclusion and diversity as the norm. While it obviously has long-term personal, academic, and professional benefits in a world market, in my opinion, its most important quality is that it dissolves the idea of foreign and creates a sense of unity and appreciation in the diversity that exists in the world. It helps to mold our young ones into understanding world citizens. That is something difficult to come by from secondhand experiences like textbooks and movies.
The next chat will take place Tuesday, June 2nd with a class from the British Montessori School in Bogotà. The native Spanish-speaking students are also fluent in Mandarin and English, so all three languages will be spoken during this call, with an emphasis on Mandarin. Ms. Dansberger Duque says, “There are schools in Argentina, Costa Rica, Panama, Grand Cayman, and Bolivia that have also expressed interest. The school in Grand Cayman, Montessori by the Sea, has opened their summer camp experience to our students.” TNCS is fortunate to offer these extraordinary programs thanks to the ongoing hard work of our TNCS ambassadors!

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