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Students Visit Germany Without Leaving Class

A webcast lets Pomona high school students interact with their counterparts across the Atlantic in a novel lesson on economics, culture.

February 10, 2006|Kelly-Anne Suarez | Times Staff Writer

The day's lesson was on economics and culture. The other goal: to foster international understanding, connecting high school students in America with their counterparts in Germany.

As events unfolded at Ganesha High School in Pomona on Thursday, that would indeed happen.

But connections of a different sort also took place, the kind high school students can relate to on both sides of the Atlantic.

A trio of girls squealed at the sight of Sebastian Hoffmann, a lanky boy with floppy brown hair and blue eyes, on the jumbo screen set up in Ganesha High's library. They had waited an entire semester -- and bought new outfits -- for this moment.

"Hi," they purred, wiggling their manicured fingers. They had seen photographs of Sebastian, but this webcast was live and confirmed what they had been saying minutes before: He was definitely the cutest boy in the class. The webcast hadn't started yet in Germany, so he didn't hear any of that.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday February 11, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Ganesha High -- The two photographs that ran with the article on Pomona's Ganesha High School in Friday's California section were portraits of students taken after class, not during a class presentation as the captions stated.

Faren Moreno, Gloria Hernandez, Kendra Pineda and the rest of Alan Loya's advanced placement economics class participated in a two-hour video conference with students taking a similar course in Kulmach, Germany. The Americans took turns lecturing on California and the Federal Reserve System while the Germans discussed the Bavaria region and the European Central Bank.

The video conference was the product of happenstance and friendship.

"I think everything good that happens to us in life is a result of personal relationships," Loya said.

He was snorkeling two years ago in Hawaii when he met German teacher Claudia Renz-Kiefel, who was vacationing with her boyfriend.

She and Loya soon discovered that they were both teachers, and she suggested that they get together again in cyberspace. When they did, they brought their classes along.

Months ago, Loya gave his class the e-mail addresses of the German students, but with one caveat: boys write boys and girls write girls.

Faren, a bubbly Latina of 17 with honey-streaked hair and a tendency to speak in exclamations, was one of those who began sending e-mails across the globe. Although she had been corresponding daily with a girl named Ramona Langer ("But I call her Mona!"), she had her mascara-accented eyes set on "Hoffman. Hoff-man. Hot-man," she giggled.

Faren said this before the lesson had started. Then an accented voice -- Renz-Kiefel's -- cut through the chatter in the Ganesha library. It was time to begin.

"Good morning, America," Renz-Kiefel said, standing in the center of a sparsely decorated classroom, her students behind her.

After a few seconds of pleasantries, Faren walked toward the lectern, fanning her face, "Ohmygod! I'm blushing!"

The German students didn't hear her, but she clearly looked nervous. After a few soothing words from Renz-Kiefel -- everyone felt jitters -- Faren navigated through PowerPoint slides of California, stopping to praise natural wonders such as Lake Tahoe and tourist favorites like the Hollywood sign.

"We have beautiful beaches, and you can see dolphins like this," she said as she cupped her hand and rocked her palm up and down across her body to simulate a swimming dolphin. This elicited a laugh from both classes. "It's really cool."

She passed the baton to Kendra. Next was Diego Puentes and finally Gloria; all three addressed the basics of the Federal Reserve. This time there was no talk of dolphins.

A little more than an hour into the webcast, the American class began to get antsy. Then a German blond named Jasmin Lieb took the microphone, and Kendra recognized her cyberspace pen pal.

"Woohoo!" Kendra shouted. "That's my girl!"

The two had been exchanging e-mails for the last month, but Thursday was, in a way, a first meeting -- full of excitement and promise.

Although Jasmin spoke on the European Central Bank, the real lesson was one of culture. And it was revealing. Jasmin, like many abroad, envisions Los Angeles as a wealthy, Ken-and-Barbie playground.

"It's funny because they're contacting a school that's predominantly Latino. It's a little twist," Kendra said.

With Jasmin, Kendra had been able to exchange cultural quirks (Jasmin skis to school) and find a common denominator (they both play tennis).

Finally, structured presentations gave way to a question-and-answer portion. Loya bounced around the room like a talk show host working his audience. The seniors who first grabbed the mike tried to keep it educational: "Does Germany have a minimum wage?"

This led to a discussion about the reunification of Germany, leading to glazed eyes all across the room.

Renz-Kiefel came to the rescue. "My students don't have any economic questions, but they do have questions about life in America."

Suddenly the Pomona students were sitting taller in their seats. They were experts on America. Bring it on.

Question one: "Can you wear short skirts to school? T-shirts and tops, is that allowed?"

Yes. Yes they could.

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