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School News
Virtual visit to Mexican sister school

by Lance Farrell

May 09, 2012

Vicente Sanchez-Ventura, Consul of Mexico, visited Leonard Elementary last week. Photo by Lance Farrell.
Paul McDevitt, principal of Leonard Elementary, took his students to Asbaje Elementary in Tlalnepantla, Mexico on Thursday, May 3. As if that wasn't enough, McDevitt also brought the Mexican elementary to Leonard.

How did he accomplish this Herculean task? McDevitt managed it through the modern-day miracle of Skype, a video- over- internet phone service that creates instant linkage for far-flung areas. Students assembled to interact via a video feed from an elementary school 2400 miles away. Gradeschoolers listened and watched with patience as adults exchanged greetings and assurances, and sat up when Mexican children made salutations, performed a skit, and engaged in one-on-one conversations.

Oxford Community Schools has now 17 such partnerships worldwide: 11 in China, one in England, one in South Africa, one in Spain, and three in Mexico. As Principal McDevitt told a packed auditorium, one purpose for these partnerships is to "find out neat things about kids who are living in a different part of the world and find out how we can be the same as some of those students and (also) different from some of those students."

As the youngsters spoke to each other as equals and shared personal information and details from their lives, cultural barriers began to evaporate. When Principal McDevitt told the assembled spectators "we're going to learn a lot about another culture and other kids your age;" he may not have known that education would begin immediately.

In an example of how the interchange between the schools will actually transpire in the months to come, Leonard Elementary students Reuben Saffran, Addison Matz, Carter Nelson, and Macy McDevitt held face-to-face conversations with children at Juana de Asbaje Elementary. In mere minutes, these conversations revealed the potential that event organizers see in the partnership.

Second-grader Macy McDevitt, spoke to a young man from Juana de Asbaje Elementary about her family and revealed that she had five cats (father McDevitt has since disavowed her report!). The instant and universal reaction from her Mexican counterpart was a heartfelt "wow!" His honest response sent waves of laughter through the hall, and provided an education on commonalities between our cultures was to all in attendance.

Any doubts about the merits of the sister school concept were dispelled in this moment. It was easy to see why McDevitt said he was "excited for all the students in the school (and) for all the opportunities that are coming from this relationship that we've built today."

On hand to help officiate the partnership was Vicente Sanchez-Ventura, Consul of Mexico, a representative of Mexico to Michigan and Northern Ohio. Sanchez told the assembled students he was "very happy to be with you this morning to start this friendship . . . this is something we have been looking for some time, but finally many students are very happy."

Sanchez has lived in Michigan for the last six years "promoting Mexico culture and education, (to provide) more information about his country." Sanchez finds that "Mexico is welcome (in Michigan), and I'm happy to promote my country here; we are very good friends"

"We need more knowledge about my country here. (For instance), not many know that Mexico has a lot of resources--many know Puerto Vaerta, Cancun , Cozumel, (yet) we have more than this--more resources, more colonial towns more pre-Hispanic centers than anywhere else on the continent."

Mexico also has "fifty-six indigenous groups speaking 56 languages; we have a literature and a legacy; Mexico has a history for almost 3000 years.

Consul Sanchez found the educational partnership with Leonard to be a very good idea. For Sanchez the partnership will translate into more jobs and more opportunities for Michigan and Mexico. "200,000 Michigan jobs depend on imports into Mexico," Sanchez said. At the same time, more than "2000 Mexicans (are employed) in the automotive industry."

Sanchez views the sister school as part of the business partnership between Michigan and Mexico. To improve understanding between the two partner countries, "education is essential," he said.

Why is the sister school so important to achieve this understanding? Sanchez listed two main reasons: "In twenty years (these students) are going to be professionals, they'll want to visit Mexico, they'll want to do business with Mexico. I think this is the best time for them to learn more about Mexico," Sanchez reasoned.

Secondly, "because we have many things in common." After all, he continued, the children in Leonard "are children just like (the kids) in Mexico-- with dreams, with families, with many things in their future. Though the traditions are different and the language is different, but at the end, the same dreams"

Bruce Pearson, Addison Twp. Supervisor concurred with Consul Sanchez. Pearson said the partnership and Skype conference were "exciting! . . . I love the interaction for the kids. It's going to open more doors, and the kids are really going to benefit. . . . This is going to be great!"

Pearson said "I'm excited about it myself, because my son (Cody) is speaking Spanish! He teaches me words all the time. I've been to Mexico and it's hard to converse without someone there who knows the language.. . . now I've got my son to go with me."

As for the immediate boon to Addison, Pearson foresees many educational opportunities. "I think that maybe we'll have some exchange students, we're always open to that. We'll have a very good rapport (with Mexico), maybe some of our kids will go there, and some of theirs will come here. We may develop some relationships and go down and visit them," Pearson concluded.

McDevitt ended the world tour by thanking his patient students for sitting through many adult speakers and by reminding the gradeschoolers that "this is our first welcome to their school, . . . but after today, it's going to be all about you guys, it's going to be about kids (from Leonard) interacting with the kids from that school. "

Teachers and students have already begun the next phase and are now crafting questionnaires for each sister school. More one-on-one Skype interactions are scheduled for the near future.