This winter, Groveland Elementary fifth graders in Jennifer Santamaria's Spanish Immersion classroom had the chance to meet new friends in a unique way. Seeking opportunities to encourage students' Spanish language fluency in a real-world, experiential way during e-learning, Santamaria reached out to former Minnetonka Schools student teacher, Dorian Garri, who is now teaching in Chile. Together, the teachers created a pen pal exchange for their classrooms.
The benefits of the pen pal project were twofold, explained Santamaria. "I wanted students to observe how the pandemic is a global pandemic, and I wanted to provide students an authentic opportunity to use their Spanish."
Since the project began, students have exchanged two sets of letters and met once through a synchronous classroom Google Meet. "Students were thrilled to see what their pen pals wrote," said Santamaria. Letter topics included discussions about how Chile and the United States responded to the pandemic, questions about student hobbies and details about what students were learning in class.
Both Santamaria and Garri's favorite memory of the project was the video call between their classrooms. "Students were able to interact with their pen pals ... and see who they were," said Santamaria.
"They were able to exchange words, ask questions and generate ties from a distance, and that is very gratifying for each student," said Garri.
The students from Chile have now ended their school year, since it is summer in the southern hemisphere, but Santamaria looks forward to continuing the project with Garri's new class of students when they return later in 2021.