San Lorenzo Valley and Scotts Valley high schools were among five schools in Santa Cruz County that hosted 37 students from Thomas Jefferson School in Concepcion, Chile.
Tara Jeffrey, a 2006 SLV High graduate who teaches at Thomas Jefferson School, led the trip and was the students’ liaison at her alma mater.
“It’s been great,” Jeffrey said. “They’re having a wonderful time.”
The students traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit the U.S. capital for five days before flying to California, where they bunked with host families beginning Sept. 15.
The purpose of the trip, Jeffrey said, is to give the Chilean students an opportunity to speak English with native speakers of their own age group and to see what life is like in the U.S.
“It’s been a great experience,” said Diego Munoz, one of the students. “It’s very nice to be in the classes of the American school.”
Munoz also said he enjoyed visiting the monuments and museums in Washington D.C., especially the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
At SLV High, eight Chilean students performed the country’s national dance and attended classes each day. The students attended the San Francisco Giants’ division-clinching win in San Francisco on Saturday, Sept. 22, and did some other sightseeing in addition to going to school.
The group was split among five schools — SLV, Scotts Valley, Pacific Collegiate, Harbor and Soquel highs — to “help them integrate a little bit better,” rather than stay in a large group, Jeffrey said.
Jeffrey works at the kindergarten-through-12th-grade Thomas Jefferson School, where she got a job after graduating from University of California, Santa Cruz, in 2009 with a major in political science and a minor in Latino studies.
She traveled to Chile twice, initially with a university study-abroad program.
“I fell in love with the country, fell in love with the people and made a lot of friends,” she said.
Her second visit was to offer help after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake devastated the country in 2010. During that visit, Jeffrey found that many of Thomas Jefferson School’s English-speaking teachers had returned to the U.S. in the aftermath, and she was offered a position. She is now in her third year teaching at the school.
Last year, she accompanied a group of Jefferson 10th-graders to Ohio for a similar tour.
Jeffrey said she hoped the relationships formed during the trip would open doors for U.S. students to travel to Concepcion to visit Thomas Jefferson School.
The group was scheduled to return to Chile on Thursday, Sept. 27.
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