Carole DeZarn initially had to push her two sons to try something so new and unfamiliar, but she said it was worth it.
“They have now, two months later, developed many friendships with other kids from all over the world,” Carole said. “They are learning and having fun.”
The Luling resident said her sons – 14-year-old Kevin and 16-year-old Jonathan – were initially reluctant to try PenPal Schools, but now their time on the website has become a family learning opportunity.
“Their favorite part is the virtual field trips,” she said. “They are writing more projects now too now that they got the hang of it.”
Carole learned about PenPal Schools from her boss, whose brother started the website.
“He gave us the information when everyone was switching to online learning,” she said of schools closing because of the coronavirus pandemic. “I signed up for my kids to be on it but at first they were a little resistant to do extra work.”
Two weeks into quarantine, she encouraged them to take a look at the website.
“I got them signed up and of course kids don’t want to get off their video games,” she said. “But they did … with a little push.”
That little push introduced the boys to the project-based learning platform that makes it possible for young people to talk and learn from other like-minded young people from 150 different countries.
Carole said parents can assign research topics to their own child, and in order for those projects to be considered complete, the child has to go on the website and read three other students’ projects on the same topic and respond to them.
With students participating from all over the world, Carole said the experience has broadened her sons’ global perspectives and taught them so much. Topics she and her sons have delved into include world news, cuisine from around the world, history and religion.
“I get to monitor who they talk to and read the projects they do,” she said. “It has actually taught me more about my kids.”
The site caters to students from 8-18 years old, and Carole said each student can only talk to other students within a two-year age difference.
She said Kevin, her shyer child, has always faced a challenge with English in school.
“As we did these projects, his writing started getting better and better,” she said.
Kevin said his favorite part about PenPal Schools is learning how kids from around the world live and what kind of games, foods and sports they enjoy.
“I am glad my mom signed me up for PenPal Schools because we get to spend time together learning about other countries,” he said. “I like meeting kids my age.”
Jonathan said his favorite part about the experience is learning about other cultures and how they manage and make money, what other students’ career goals are, and talking to kids with the same career goals as himself.
“I would tell other kids to at least give this a try, especially if they want to travel and get an advanced education in world finance,” he said.
Carole said the site has a referral program where parents can earn free months, and added teachers can sign up for free and use the site for class projects.
For more information on the program, visit www.penpalschools.com.