You can also view the video below by clicking here
MARCH 30, 2023— A group of Pal-Mac High School students is connecting with other students in a classroom over 5,000 miles away from them.
Mrs. DeSol's 11th grade International Baccalaureate (IB) Literature classes are currently video pen pals with another 11th grade IB literature class in Jerusalem, Israel.
The videos started with basic introductions that shared hobbies, interests, and glimpses into a typical school day in each country. The group then pivoted to deeper conversations about the literature they were studying and the global issues addressed within it.
DeSol said the idea was brought out of curiosity by herself and her students.
She visited Jerusalem earlier this year with her husband, and her students asked her to report on being a student in Israel.
DeSol says through her connections with the IB program, she could tour a school, which led to her teaching a class. It was an experience she chalked up to her "teacher brain."
"I immediately started thinking, how can I bring this experience back to my students?" DeSol said. "I'm always thinking about how this can benefit my students; how can I bring them some real-life experiences?"
And so the pen pal videos were born.
We spoke to several of DeSol's students to find out exactly what they feel they're getting from this experience.
We first heard from Andrew and Phillip, who call the chats "refreshing." Philip is a foreign exchange student visiting from Germany and is currently staying with another student, Andrew's, family. He says while students back home typically learn about other cultures, they don't talk with them like this.
"It's a great opportunity to learn about different cultures, how people live, how people go to school," Philip said. "So I feel like if you have the opportunity, you should just take it."
Andrew said he didn't go into the pen pal program with specific expectations for what would happen, but so far, he's come away with a robust learning experience. He called the effort "virtual friends."
"When I found out Philip was going to come live with me from Germany, I was excited about it," Andrew said. "And just the opportunity to learn other aspects of his life, and to learn, not only from Germany but Israel, is really cool."
The students in Jerusalem are seven hours ahead of DeSol's, so the classes cannot communicate in real time. Instead, the videos are recorded and posted into folders that fall under different categories.
The videos started with 30-second to minute-long clips where P-M students introduced themselves and asked the Israeli students questions. The students across the pond would then record responses, typically done as a group.
Questions included what lunch looked like, what social media each school uses, the sports they play, and much more.
The students in Jerusalem shared that their school has about 160 total students. With a small size, the school typically holds two whole-building assemblies throughout the week. Classes generally are six 45-minute periods with about an hour for lunch. The school also lets out early on Fridays.
Some of the student population also comes from several different countries, a fact that had an impact on Clare H.
"I think it's really interesting to see all those different points of view even though it's in one country," Clare said. "They have so many different people."
While students like Clare said the introductions and questions were helpful in the learning process, the tours are what really opened some eyes.
The students in Jerusalem showed off their sizeable outdoor fitness equipment, social areas, classrooms, and hallways.
And then there was the cafeteria. In one video, the students show a line of fresh vegetable dishes alongside a display case full of baguettes and other baked goods.
"We have everything; we're so blessed," one student said.
The food was brought up frequently when we asked Pal-Mac students what stood out most from the tours.
Pal-Mac's tours included the gym, science, and wrestling rooms.
"In the wrestling video, we just wanted to show them how important sports can be to Pal-Mac," said Aiden, a student. "We wanted to show it lets kids express themselves in different ways. So like, there's something at home, or you're in a friend group, or something like, sports can help you find your way."
In another video, students made fudge as part of a science experiment. The experiment drew some questions from the students overseas.
This brings us back to the original point of the program: Making connections and learning about differences.
"We can kind of put aside our cultural differences," Jade said. "Even though they still exist, I think the IB connects us."
DeSol's students commonly told us they expected there to be differences but came away surprised at the similarities students had between each other.
"It seems like they're very similar to us, like the way they talk to each other and the way they interact with their teachers," Marianna said.
"We are living literally on the opposite side of the world, but we are all just people," Philip said.
DeSol said she's proud of her students for taking such an interest in the program, but she's most proud of those who stepped out of their comfort zones. She says some students may be shyer in class but take the opportunity to speak up when speaking to the students in Israel.
"There's so much pride in their school and who they are," DeSol said. "They're looking at their lives with the new lens, which has been very exciting."
DeSol hopes to continue and develop the program down the road.