In the digital age, it’s often said that letter writing is a lost art. Not so for Marian Spanish students who for the last six years have participated in a pen pal program with students from Spring Lake Elementary School. The program pairs native English speakers with native Spanish speakers, and both pals gain skills and understanding from the friendship.

The pen pal program got its start with college pals who are both teachers. Marian Spanish teacher Amanda Pritchard paired her Honors IV and AP Spanish students with her friend’s ESL students at Spring Lake, a pre-K to fourth-grade magnet school in South Omaha. The students exchange two letters to work on their writing skills before meeting in person to practice their conversation skills. Over the years, the in-person meetings have included card games, board games, a flip-grid video exchange and an escape room challenge.

For the Marian students, the letter writing provides practice for the writing section of the AP exams. The in-person engagement with native speakers is beneficial to their conversational Spanish, as it provides them with an opportunity to listen and respond. In addition to language development, it provides the Marian students with a leadership opportunity. “It’s good for our girls to lead and manage kids,” said Pritchard.

The younger students benefit from the engagement and have a lot to offer as well. For the elementary kids, writing and key boarding skills are reinforced. It’s also an opportunity to learn about what they might be able to do in high school. Furthermore, the younger share their expertise as native speakers.

“When they see our girls work on their Spanish, the little kids know ‘I’m good at that and I can help.’ It’s a real confidence boost for them,” Pritchard said.

Working together creates multiple learning opportunities. Junior Audrey Arthur said one of the biggest lessons from the pen pal experience was the value of patience. “Everyone there is learning a new language, so it was necessary to take time to encourage one another to keep practicing and to work together to get past any language barriers that came up. I hope that the fourth graders I worked with learned that it’s ok to make mistakes, as long as you are trying your best.”

Making connections made an impression on junior Regina Anyaegbunam ’23. “Age and language should not be a barrier when it comes to communication. I think we all learned not to let those differences prevent you from making a new friend,” said  Anyaegbunam.