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.

“Though the distance between us is nearly 1,800 miles, the challenge of how to reach each and every student remains the same,” Mrs. Bannister added. “In an effort to help with the lack of materials, we sent lesson plans/activities and accompanying supplies so that these classes might experience something new and different while learning math skills. In a world where communication is constant and immediate, this experience has taught my students the importance of patience and the value of the written word.”