“Vouloir, C’est Pouvoir”

“This was a big brainstorming; how am I going to do this, because I still want this to happen?” That was the question perplexing SIS French teacher Annette Koerten as she pondered how she could continue the pen pal program she had been facilitating pre-COVID between her students in Shorewood and students in Paris and the Caribbean isle of Martinique. This question of “how” has been all too familiar to most over the past 10 months. Whether a parent, teacher, administrator, or student, we’ve all been challenged to uphold a standard of excellence and meet certain criteria during a daunting and unpredictable time.

Madame Koerten is no stranger to overcoming obstacles. As a woman who has moved across the globe between 20 different cities and 4 continents, she has become somewhat of an expert at adaptation and accepting change. The pen pal program she started 4 years ago as an extension of Authentic Learning had its share of hurdles. She explains, “I wanted to innovate and go beyond the textbook activities, but before I could pursue that route, I had to give myself the means to accomplish this goal. I was confronted with a big problem; the school budget is very limited so I could not rely on that funding. My only option was to write grants to get what I needed.” Mme Koerten submitted several grants, in collaboration with her colleagues of the World Language Department, over the past 5 years to fulfill her vision. SEED was able to provide some of her requests, such as 15 iPads and a 360-degree camera, due to the generosity of our donors and Madame’s persistence. “Little by little I was able to get what I needed to transform my curriculum…these new tools allowed me to accomplish great projects with the students and provide them with a cutting-edge environment to improve their language learning.”

Annette Koerten's 8th grade French students using classroom technology to connect with students in France as part of their pen pal program.
Annette Koerten’s 8th grade French students using classroom technology to connect with students in France as part of their pen pal program

One of the biggest projects Mme Koerten undertook with this new technology was connecting her 8th grade classes to French students in Martinique and Paris for the pen pal program. “Being able to communicate to actual French natives is an amazing opportunity for my students to not only practice their French, but also improve the quality of their fluency.” In 2018, she and her students used the 360 degree virtual reality camera to create a 3D tour of Shorewood Intermediate School. Her students gave the tour in French and shared it with their pen pals, who were then able to watch the tour via their own virtual reality headset as if they were walking through the school themselves- a truly immersive experience!

A letter exchanged during the pen pal program.
A letter exchanged during the pen pal program

The French students had been exchanging letters the old fashioned way (snail mail!) up until the start of the pandemic. However, there wasn’t a safe or easy way to collect all of her students’ letters to send out, nor to deliver incoming letters to her students. In true Mme Koerten fashion, she rose to the occasion and devised a plan so her students would not have to forgo this enriching experience. The solution she landed on was to make a compilation video of the letters so that everyone could enjoy reading them. Luckily Mme Koerten is well versed in technology and already had an amazing website with a plethora of information, resources, and student work before virtual learning was even on her radar. This year, she utilized her website and an app called “Voki” so that her 7th grade students could record themselves speaking in French to their pen pals as an avatar. The 8th graders are currently working on a video blog about popular American foods to share with their overseas friends.

Looking ahead, Mme Koerten is excited to have her students back in her physical classroom where she can share the letters she has received with them and continue using technology to create new and exciting experiences. In the meantime, she has made the most of the technology provided by SEED donors to support her efforts and continue connecting her students with cross cultural and language opportunities. The iPads are currently being used by students at home who need a device, a step in making sure every student has equal access to their school work and classrooms.

8th Grade French students practicing their cooking.
8th Grade French students practicing their cooking

This work is one example of the fortitude and perseverance within our district, and there are many others that have yet to be shared. When thinking about all the framework that existed to make Mme Koerten’s virtual learning successful, there is great deal of gratitude owed. Thank you to our donors for supporting Authentic learning, Equity, and District technology needs. Thanks to our teachers, parents, and students for working together to make the most of a difficult year. The French saying “Vouloir, c’est pouvoir” literally translates to English as “to want to is to be able to.” Our closest saying in the US is “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Our deepest thanks to all involved in making a way for our students to continue their education during one of the most challenging seasons of recent history. Your sacrifice has not gone unnoticed! If you are inspired by this story and would like to make a donation toward our annual fund to continue this great work, please click on the link below.

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