AUSTIN, Texas - PenPal Schools is an online community where children from all over the world can learn together. Children collaborate through online projects ranging from human rights and the environment to robotics, all while practicing reading, writing, and technology skills.
They recently announced they're offering free access during the COVID-19 pandemic. Half a million children across 150 countries use the platform.
"I log in and all my kids join it outside of the classroom and I pick a topic. The students communicate back and forth on a scripted set of questions," Round Rock ISD teacher Holly Pazos said.
Pazos has been using PenPal Schools for the past five years and says PenPal has worked well for her.
“So with the coronavirus, everyone is so isolated and we as adults have recognized the importance of online communities to keep us connected the same is true of kids," Pazos said.
Joe Troyen, founder of PenPal Schools, says all the information they put out there is vetted and factual, which puts parents and teachers at ease.
"Then your kids are assigned a PenPal from around the world," Troyen said. "There's a safety factor in there for PenPals monitors what the kids are talking about. As a parent that feels great."
Pazos says kids are used to communicating with their peers so this is their new normal and they say they're excited to get them back into it. She says the program teaches core skills like collaboration, critical thinking, and communication.
“Our youngest students are seven and eight years old, they'll connect on topics like world of food where they can learn about recipes and maybe even create a cookbook with kids around the world and then we have all the way up to seniors in high school," Troyen said. "Over 20,000 schools using it parents all over the world. It's open to everyone."
Schools that are open also have free access. To learn more about PenPal Schools or to sign up, visit their website.
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On March 19, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a public health disaster, the first in Texas since 1901. The executive orders, which took effect at midnight Friday, March 20 and goes through midnight on Friday, April 3, bring the state in line with CDC guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The public health disaster orders schools to be closed statewide until at least April 3. The disaster also orders a ban on dine-in eating and gathering in groups of more than 10 as the state ramps up efforts to battle the coronavirus. Abbott's order also will shut down gyms and bars. It also bans visits to nursing and retirement homes unless there is a critical need.
FOX 7 Austin is working to keep you up to date with coronavirus, with both local and national developments. Every weekday we're live at 1 p.m. with a special show reporting the latest news, prevention tips and treatment information.
You can also get the latest COVID-19 news from around the country at coronavirusnow.com.