Friendships across the ocean
What could be more wonderful than having a best friend from Barcelona, Spain? If you ask a Parker middle school kid, the answer is “Nothing!”
For the past 8 days, Parker has had the privilege of hosting nine students from St. Peter’s School in Barcelona. This was the second time that St. Peter’s kids have come to Parker. Last February we sent nine students there for a week to live with host families, visit classes and take in the sights of Barcelona with their St. Peter’s classmates.
There is something exquisitely special for students about connecting with someone their own age from across the world. They can be the visitor’s guide to the details of their lives, and the visitor can be a guide to their own lives. For one week in person, and for many months before and many years after, students have this unique experience that they have shared together.
The host families of our nine visitors had exchanged interviews and photos before hand. “What is your child like?” and “How does your child respond to new situations?” were some of the questions. “Do you have pets?” and “Are there any foods you don’t eat?” Everyone likes to become known and perhaps it is this intentional way of getting to know someone that sets the stage for the richness of the relationships to develop.
St. Peter’s is an international school where English is spoken in all classes. Except, that is, in Catalan, Spanish and French classes that all students take. So the students have English in common, although there are differing levels of the Spanish students’ comfort with English.
For all Parker students, encountering kids their age who have such a facility with language has been truly inspiring. Interest in learning Spanish shot way up after the first St. Peter’s visit to Parker in March 2013 – and we decided to add a much more integrated program of language learning starting in preschool. We also added an extra class period every week (going from two to three) for grades 4 and 5, to prepare better for middle school Spanish, a core subject for all middle school students at Parker.
This amazing partnership has so many advantages. Several teachers have made the trip as chaperones in a gratifying back-and-forth exchange, so we are all learning about other teaching methods and have gotten to know each other, too. Our students have gained in empathy and understanding of another country and culture and of the lives of other families and children. They have found motivation to better master Spanish. And most important, especially from their perspective, they have formed friendships that will last a lifetime.