Students at Underwood Elementary are learning more about the world this year through their Jamaican pen pals. Students in several classes including first-, second- and sixth-grade, have been writing to students at St. Jago Primary in Harmons. The pen pal program is coordinated by Won by One to Jamaica, an organization serving Harmons, Jamaica.
Sixth-grade teacher Karen Bannister delivered the students’ first set of letters in September 2017 when she visited Harmons. The notes included a basic introduction as well as questions to help initiate the communications.
“The opportunity to meet these students made it infinitely more personal, and I was able to bring back lots of stories and information for my students as well as a picture of our pen pal class,” said Mrs. Bannister. “Prior to my leaving for Jamaica, Colton, one of my sixth-graders, asked if they had calculators in their classroom. Upon my return I was able to share that no, they did not have calculators, and in fact, each student had little more than a pencil and a composition book. As a result, my students collected and sent a class set of calculators along with our second correspondence.”
The Underwood students have received two letters from their pen pals including information about the Jamaican families, their school, celebrations and out-of-school activities. The Jamaican students also sent Jamaican snacks, currency and a stamp.
Fayth Nichols, a sixth-grader, said, “This experience has been mind opening. We got to explore a new culture and learn about diversity.”
Sixth-grader Jaxon Schreuder added, “This experience makes me thankful for what I have.”
Not only are the students pen pals, but the three Underwood teachers and the three
St. Jago teachers have also communicated with one another, sharing personal stories and experiences in education.
“Certain opportunities are once in a lifetime, and we could not pass up the opportunity to learn and diversify ourselves by being pen pals with our Jamaican friends,” added Tia Kirn, first-grade teacher. “Won By One to Jamaica has changed my classroom’s outlook in such an inspiring and positive way. How many kiddos at the age of 6 have the privilege to learn about another country’s traditions, cultures and daily routines through the lenses of other six year olds? Students have made new friends and are filled with joy when they hear they have received mail from Jamaica!”