Huntington High School’s Advanced Placement Spanish Language and Culture classes enjoyed a series of letter exchanges with teenagers in Villajoyosa, Spain during the recently completed school year.
“My students have done letter exchanges via email with peers in other schools for almost ten years now,” veteran teacher Mercedes Peña said. “When we first started this we corresponded with an AP Spanish class in New Jersey for a few years and then started corresponding with schools outside of the United States, including Ecuador and Mexico. This year we were fortunate to exchange old-fashioned letter-writing with high school students in Villajoyosa, Spain. It was Yolanda Giménez’s idea. She was the collaborating teacher in Villajoyosa who teaches English as a World Language.”
The longtime Huntington faculty member met Ms. Giménez through the educational site Edmodo, “which is like Facebook, but geared towards education”, Mrs. Peña said. “I asked via Edmodo if there was a teacher willing to collaborate with me in letter exchanges. I received many responses from colleagues around the globe. I decided to select the teacher who had students closest to my students’ ages and who seemed the most excited about doing the letter exchanges. Ms. Giménez and I clicked immediately because we both like doing creative and innovative activities in the classroom.”
Mrs. Peña sat down at 9 p.m. one evening and typed out an idea that she had and her counterpart in Spain immediately responded. “I was shocked that she was awake because there is about a six-hour difference with Spain, which means that it was probably 3 a.m. over there,” Mrs. Peña said. “She told me that she was doing school work all night and I replied that I totally understood, but I stop at 11 p.m.”
When the first batch of letters arrived at Huntington High School, the AP students were excited. “Most of them never received handwritten letters before and it was like discovering a hidden treasure in their own backyard,” Mrs. Peña said. “I was fascinated by just looking at my students’ faces as they read their pen pals’ letters. Ms. Giménez’s students wrote in English and my students wrote back in Spanish throughout the year. Ms. Giménez and I also wrote to each other, but via e-mails in English because she wanted to practice her English skills, too.”
Most of them never received handwritten letters before and it was like discovering a hidden treasure in their own backyard,” Mrs. Peña said. “I was fascinated by just looking at my students’ faces as they read their pen pals’ letters.- Mercedes Peña
The initiative had secure educational footings. “Our goals were for students to practice the written language and at the same time learn about one another’s culture,” Mrs. Peña said. “The AP Spanish Language and Culture exam has a section in which students are to respond to a letter and another section in which students have to do a cultural comparison, so these activities were great ways to practice the target language and culture. Some of the cultural topics were about the different ways of celebrating holidays, the languages spoken in one another’s towns (Villajoyosa speaks Spanish and Catalan), the programs in their schools and details about one another’s towns.”
Mrs. Peña likes to think outside the box and keep her classes interesting and exciting for her students. She’s the faculty advisor for Huntington’s National Spanish Honor Society chapter, too.
“I wanted my students to also Skype with their peers in Spain, like we’ve done with the schools in New Jersey, Mexico and Ecuador, but the time difference made it impossible for the two classes to meet,” Mrs. Peña said. “So my students prepared videos to send to their Villajoyosa peers. The videos were about Huntington High School, Huntington Village, New York City and other surrounding areas.”
The exchanges were quite interesting in their focus. Junior Manyara Cuadra wrote about the history of Huntington in Spanish. The students in Villajoyosa did PowerPoint presentations and videos about their hometown. “We put all of these projects in a blog that Ms. Giménez created,” Mrs. Peña said.
The Huntington students developed some exceptionally creative videos, including a remarkable one by senior Samuel Latt. To access the material you can visit .
Villajoyosa’s interesting videos and PowerPoints can be found by logging onto .
“I have to admit that this was the best experience we’ve had with another school and I thank Ms. Giménez for this amazing opportunity,” Mrs. Peña said. “She is an outstanding teacher and colleague. She also made it possible for our ideas to combine in a highly successful manner.”