Namibian Pen Pals Expand Persell Students’ World View
“Hallo, hoe gaann dit met u?”
Students in Grace Johnson’s seventh and eighth grade English Language Arts classes at Persell Middle School have become quite accustomed to pleasantries in the language Afrikaans. Throughout the month of March, Johnson and her students have engaged in a pen pal experience with students from Namibia through a collaboration with Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES (Bryan Olson) and Educators of America (Mike Lynch & Justin Potter).
A post-apartheid country in southern Africa located over 7,500 miles from Jamestown, the Republic of Namibia borders the Atlantic Ocean and has a population of over 2.5 million people.
Geographically, it is twice the size of California but has one of the lowest population densities in Africa. In addition to Afrikaans, its people speak German and English. There are also 27 tribal languages in the country.
Johnson began the experience of having classes communicate with students in Namibia in 2019.
“It’s interesting because it opened my eyes to another part of the world I knew nothing about,” Johnson said. “When I was in school, Namibia hadn’t been formed yet. For my guys to learn about this part of the world that a lot of Americans don’t know much about, it’s been really important.”
Outside of formal letters to and from their pals, Johnson’s students will also have the chance to make iMovie projects that help to teach their friends about Jamestown and the United States.
The Namibian students will also have a chance to share materials that help to teach Johnson’s students about their region of the world.
“We were able to set up a Zoom with our Namibian friends the last time we did this, during which several of the Namibian girls were able to perform a traditional dance,” Johnson said. “Our students were amazed.”
Establishing friendships has also meant a lot to the students — seventh grader JaLeiya Glover was surprised just how similar she and her pen pal were.
“She told me a lot about herself and her family members, but then we found out we have a lot of similar interests: we like a lot of the same books like ‘Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief’ and some of the same TV shows,” said Glover. “It’s been really cool to communicate with people my age from another culture. I’ve really enjoyed that.”
“The students have been excited to make these friends from a completely different culture and across the world,” Johnson continued. “Some of my former students are still in contact with their pen pals. It’s really unique.”