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Hola, Madrid? It’s Me, Forest Hills!

Students Chat Online with Longtime Pen Pals

Ava Dingman sat at third in line, her feet bouncing up and down in neon green sneakers with bright yellow laces, as she waited to chat online with those she had only known via email since the second grade.

Was she nervous? “Yeah,” whispered the sixth-grader at Northern Trails ⅚. Why? “I don’t know!” she said as she closed her eyes and smiled.

Ava was one of about two dozen sixth-graders who participated in the face-to-face video chat with students at the Academia Liceo Madrid, a private school in Madrid, Spain.

“This is just one step in the journey,” said Principal Sue Gutierrez.

Northern Trails students, who previously attended the district’s Spanish immersion school, Ada Vista, have been communicating online with Madrid students since the second grade, and the recent video chat was their first time speaking face-to-face, Gutierrez said. A handful of Forest Hills students have traveled to Spain between seventh and eighth grade to meet their counterparts and vice versa. Her own son spent two weeks there in June, and his Spanish friend spent two weeks with her family.

At one computer, Julia G. Baker barely got out an “Hola!” before the audio on her computer refused to cooperate. So she settled for typing to a girl named Carmen on the screen in front of her. Julia’s first questions, in Spanish of course: “If they can watch the Superbowl over in Spain, and if she could visit any country, which ones would she go to?”

Carmen answered in English: No, and Germany, France and America.

Next to Ava, Patrick Kochaney solved the audio glitches with a 21st Century workaround: He and his video partner exchange phone numbers. They’ll just text, Patrick explained.


Forest Hills Public Schools Spanish Immersion Program

Students Chat Online with Longtime Pen Pals
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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio


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