First Impressions - Visiting Our Partner Schools: Caprapro and San Patricio

Over the past two days, Rodrigo, Erika, Anne and I made our ways down the steep hills and through the narrow, busy streets of Bariloche to visit two of our Patagonian partner schools. We were warmly welcomed on the first morning by administrators and teachers from all three partner schools, showered with greetings, kisses on cheeks, and feasted with pastries and sandwiches. We shared our ideas and dreams, constraints and concerns, in building a shared program. How many students could visit at a time? How much Spanish should Dublin students have had before coming? Could we design exchanges around themes like environmental studies or history? What role should an accompanying teacher play? What courses are most important at Dublin for Argentinian students? Could we also exchange teachers, and if so, for how long? These questions and more launched us into classroom visits.

Both Capraro and San Patricio are K- 12 schools and are animated by the clamor and energy the mixed ages bring. Children start school as young as 3, and the kindergartners wear smocks with their names embroidered on the front pockets. We tiptoed down the kindergarten corridors at Capraro after lunch to peek at the wee ones asleep on their mats while third and fourth graders played games in gym classes, fifth graders worked on drawings, and seniors were introduced to the Russian Revolution. At San Patricio, we witnessed a Biology class for 8th graders in which groups of students were drawing observations about adaptations in plants, insects, and birds with rapt attention.

In both schools, we had the opportunity to speak with 6th-grade students in English classes. Students prepared questions to pose, and hands shot into the air. We fielded questions about Dublin School, each answer causing an “ooh” in response. Do students use technology in classes? Are you in the forest? Where do students eat? What if they are sick? Can parents visit? What sports can they do? TWO hours of study hall? 

Other questions focused on our lives and families, our travels, and American culture. “Is it true you have 5 minutes just to fight in a hockey game?” Anne fielded this one and explained you get a penalty of five minutes for fighting. “Oooh.” “Are there students at Dublin who can’t eat gluten?” “Which of Bariloche’s chocolatiers do you like best?” “Where would you like to travel next?” “What do you think of Argentina?”

Rodrigo even got to guest lecture in a history class in San Patricio, where we discovered a history teacher we had met the previous day at Capraro. Argentinian teachers often teach at two or three schools each day.

We were so glad to see Tommy Plugel and Milli Licari at Capraro, and even met Tommy’s younger brother. At San Patricio, Steffi Lisi and Tommy Lombardini gave us a tour and shared their thoughts on their three weeks at Dublin. 

Both schools are bursting at the seams, with classes between 17 and 30 students. At Capraro, a lab was being conducted for two classes of third graders, with half sitting on the floor. Administrators at both schools spoke of increased demand and the need for more space and equipment. We noted that students do not use laptops in class, and may only be on phones with specific permission from teachers. 

Immediately apparent in both schools was the affection and care shown to students by Argentinian teachers. Heads of school patted students’ cheeks in passing; students and teachers use first names or nicknames in addressing each other; questions and misbehavior are calmly and kindly redirected. The schools are joyous places. As Audrey, Academic Dean of Capraro said, “Sometimes when something particularly beautiful is happening outside, we just have to stop class for a moment and remind students of the beautiful place we live in.” She gestured to the large windows that look out to Lago Nahual Huapi and the Andes, shining in the bright afternoon.

Indeed, we too have been awash in the beauty of this spectacular place, torn between the kindness of the people, the joy of learning, and the need to look up to the mountains, gleaming at sunset, bright with new snow, blanketed in shadows from passing clouds, golden in evening light. Mountains remind us of the history we come from and the layers of life on earth, and the heights we wish to climb to see the world from a new perspective. Mountains and schools are well suited to one another, ideally with a lake nearby, reminding us to look higher, to take up challenges with joy, reaching out to friends for help on the journey. We are thrilled to be reaching out and making friends in Bariloche, and look forward to our visit to Woodville School on Monday.

Sarah Doenmez