The following is a guest post from Joe Troyen, Founder and CEO of PenPal Schools, winner of our Dell World 2014 Pitch Slam, which was the culminating event for the annual Tech Innovation Day Series, hosted by Dell for Entrepreneurs.
In today’s increasingly interconnected world, it’s more important than ever for students to be exposed to other cultures and perspectives at an early age. However, due to growing pressures on teachers to align all instruction to academic standards, cultural exchange programs like PenPals have fallen out of fashion.
We started PenPal Schools because we believe that meaningful cultural exchange should be a part of every student’s education. We set out to create a program where students can experience that great cultural exchange within the context of an academically rigorous curriculum that aligns to academic standards.
In addition to sharing their personal lives, students using PenPal Schools exchange perspectives on global issues and practice foreign languages through standards-aligned courses designed for students of all ages and abilities. Courses include a World News curriculum for students to share perspectives on global issues, as well as foreign language courses for learners of Spanish, French, Chinese, and English to practice their target language with native speakers.
After starting out with a handful of students connecting through email, we’ve quickly grown to over 50,000 students in more than 50 countries. It’s truly amazing how excited students around the world are to share their experiences and discover new cultures.
New technology has enabled us to modernize the traditional PenPal exchange through sleek apps for browsers and mobile devices that make communication fun for students and easy for teachers. At its core, however, the value of PenPal Schools does not lie in its code or features, but in the students and teachers sharing their lives and perspectives. PenPal Schools is not just a product or an app; it’s a global community of students, educators, and parents connecting to learn together.
Winning the Dell World Pitch Slam finals has been transformational for us. In the days following the contest, stories from the event from EdSurge, Silicon Hills and more reached educators around the world. We have experienced a huge boost in enrollment in India, Latin America, Europe, and most of all in China, where over 20,000 students signed up within 48 hours!
But even more important than the press is the opportunity to partner with Dell to spread PenPal Schools across school districts around the world.
By including the PenPal Schools app on Dell devices, students and teachers can instantly use their new Dell products to connect for eye-opening, highly educational experiences. We also hope to work with Dell to provide devices to low-income schools around the world to help them connect their students to learn about the world around them and share their own unique perspectives.
Thanks to Dell’s relationships with so many schools and technology partners in the US and abroad, we have a tremendous opportunity to grow our global community and promote cultural awareness and literacy around the world.
Before PenPal Schools, Joe studied International Relations at Pomona College and worked for 5 years designing software products for clients in Education and Health Care.
Joe has had the opportunity to meet many of the PenPal Schools students and teachers around the world and across the USA, and their passion for learning and sharing their cultures continues to inspire him and the rest of the PenPal Schools team.