Huntington High School’s Advanced Placement Spanish Language and Culture classes enjoyed a series of letter exchanges with teenagers in Villajoyosa, Spain.
“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, Mexico and Spain. This is the third year that we are exchanging letters with IES La Malladeta High School in Villajoyosa, Spain.
After two years of collaboration with the English as a World Language classes of teacher Yolanda Giménez, the Huntington students exchanged letters this year with the classes of teacher Isabel Perez after Ms. Giménez was promoted to the administrative ranks in Spain.
Huntington AP Spanish teacher Mercedes Pena.
“It’s been a great pleasure to work with Ms. Perez because she is such a caring teacher and encourages her students to take the e-mail exchanges seriously,” Mrs. Peña said. “Our goals were for students to practice the written language and at the same time learn about one another’s cultures. My students would write in Spanish and her students would write in English. All of the letters were supervised by both teachers. 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.”
The Huntington High School students derived many benefits from the initiative. “All in all, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this connection established by Mrs. Peña,” Ethan Garcia said. “Now, not only am I more confident in my Spanish skills than I ever was before, but I have successfully connected with a friend in another part of the world that I may not have ever been able to have contact with without her help.”
The two sets of students across the globe began to anxiously look forward to the exchanges. “It was very exciting to be able to talk with someone from Spain,” Arashdeep Singh said. “I learned a lot about their culture and some of the festivities that they take part in, creating a clear understanding that can’t be provided from classroom textbooks. It was interesting to see how different their daily lives are in comparison to us. I wouldn’t be able to have this amazing experience without the help of Mrs. Peña, so a special thanks goes to her.”
Everyone involved in the exchange got something different out of the experience. “I like exchanging letters because I get to meet new people and I get to learn about different ideas and cultures,” Julia Caballero said. “I am not a sociable person so I do not speak much, but when I find a person who has things in common with me, I say a lot.”
At the heart of the exchange was the educational value of it all. “I learned that its culture was one of kind,” Dariana Cruz said. “Regarding my pen pal herself; I got to know a lot about her, too. She seemed to be a nice and cheerful girl. She also has four wonderful dogs that kept her company while growing up. She also loves listening to music in her spare time and playing basketball. She also told me about her plans for the future, she would one day like to be an architect. I hope all her dreams come true.”
The exchange initiative will always be remembered by those who participated in it. “My experience writing letters to my friend from Spain was very nice,” Yessica Granados said. “One of the reasons is because we had many things in common, for example, the two of us like to read poetry books and listen to music when we have problems because it helps us clear our minds. Another reason I like this activity is because I like to make friends and it’s great to know their interests and what they want to be in the future. My new friend from Spain likes science a lot and says that science teaches us something new every day. She also told me about the Spanish culture, such as the typical food of her country and about her family, for example, that her mother loves to cook. This was definitely an interesting experience.”
Mrs. Peña originally met Ms. Giménez through the educational site Edmodo, “which is like Facebook, but geared towards education,” she 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.” The rest is history. The collaboration is still going strong three years later.