ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - Community School started offering Spanish to all students in the mid 1980's. Now they have the longest running exchange program in the Roanoke Valley, and they say the only one that offers a true "exchange" experience for younger students.
Fabiana Castillo is visiting from Bolivia as part of the Community School's exchange program. Every year students from Santa Cruz come from South America to Roanoke to learn English and American culture.
"The first time it was really hard but now I can understand more," said Castillo, who is visiting for the third time.
Bolivian students stay for six weeks going to school every day and get immersed in American culture--- the languages, food, music, family interaction and entertainment.
Castillo says she likes school in the U.S. more because class sizes are smaller at Community School.
"I like the way that they teach. They use more fun stuff. There are less people, it's a lot easier to teach," said Castillo. "It's very nice because you get to know new people and you get to learn a lot of English."
A group of eight Community School students travel to Bolivia next week.
"It's going to be neat. A lot of my friends have told me about how they experienced it and I'm not sure what my own take on the whole thing is going to be," said Benjamin Skelton, a Community School 8th grader who will be visiting Bolivia for the first time.
"It's great for the kids on both sides. It increases their self-confidence, their self reliance, they learn to have a worldview and they end up with family in another country that they tend to really keep in touch with," said Pattie Stratton who will chaperone for a third year. "For my children when they went one of the big takeaways was just we are different but we're all the same. Kids still argue with their parents, the dog still gets out of the house and things like that. They learn the commonality."
Stratton says this program is unique because the students are young -- 12 or 13-years old when go through the exchange.
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