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Persell 7th Graders Discover Namibia Pen Pals

Persell Middle School seventh graders are corresponding, through Zoom and writing letters, with a classroom in Namibia, Africa as part of a “Building Cultural Bridges” program.

Persell Middle School seventh graders in Grace Johnson’s classes have the amazing opportunity to talk to fellow students in Namibia, Africa through traditional letter writing and on-screen technology. The collaboration is thanks to an innovative grant called “Building Cultural Bridges” through the non-profit, Educators of America and partner Erie2BOCES. This is the third group of students who have benefited from this partnership.

“Students love connecting with peers in Namibia and learning about how their lives compare and contrast,” said Mrs. Johnson. “The letters they exchange allow them the opportunity to discover more about each other, and our Zoom meetings put faces to names. Some of my students from the past two years in the program, who are now at Jamestown High School, continue to communicate with their African pals.”

The Persell students started out by writing letters to their Namibian pen pals. The students just received their first letter back from Namibia. The first Zoom meeting between the two classrooms happened this week, which gave students an opportunity to meet each other “in person.”

“I found out that my pen pal likes sports and plays video games that we play,” said Persell Middle School seventh grader Ethan Braun.

“My pen pal said it is 107 degrees where he lives,” said Eligh Deleon.

The goal of the program is to have the two classrooms work on a project-based assignment in small groups. The project-based learning is centered around a challenging problem or question and allows the students in Jamestown and Namibia to have sustained inquiry, a voice and choice in what they study, a time to reflect, critique and review with each other and produce a product. In the past, the students have done an iMovie about conservation. Mrs. Johnson is hoping to have students work as partners to create their projects. The classes are considering a “Day in the Life” to highlight what it is like to live in Jamestown.

“Some of our lifestyles are different but we are also finding out that we are a lot alike, even though we live so far away from each other,” said Persell Middle School seventh grader, Carter Rizzuto. “My pen pal likes to work out to stay fit just like me.”

“The Building Culture Bridges program has enabled our students to experience the world outside of Jamestown and connect with their Namibian peers in an authentic and meaningful way,” said Persell Middle School Principal Mike McElrath. “Students are discovering novel cultures, languages, ideas, and more while sharing their own stories and cultures of Jamestown and the Western New York area. In addition, the program has been an opportunity for students to grow their 21st-Century Skills, such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and technology literacy. It is a wonderful program that I hope we can keep in Persell going forward.”

Even though the program is just starting for this group of students, they already see the benefits.

“It is important for us to learn about different cultures,” said Persell seventh grader Mikael Anderson. “As we get older, we are going to need to understand different ways of life and this project is a great way for us to learn that early on.”

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