A few years ago, when David Martinez Sanchez was a student at Mechanics Grove, he remembers being nervous when high school students visited as part of a Spanish Pen Pal program.
On Wednesday, the Mundelein High School sophomore was back at MG, this time to visit his fifth-grade pen pal. He was one of more than 100 MHS Spanish Heritage students who visited MG third- and fifth-graders, half in the morning and half in an afternoon session.
The program is designed to help young dual language students at MG by connecting them with high school students whose first language is also Spanish. The MHS students sent postcards to their younger counterparts in September, and a few days ago the MG students responded by sending postcards of their own to the older kids.
The program will be repeated in February with another postcard exchange, so the students will be able to develop an ongoing relationship.
“One of the greatest things is the students in our dual language program can see how they’ll use this later in life too,” MG Principal Tanya Fergus said. “And they’ll see that these high school students are continuing to maintain their academic Spanish biliteracy.”
In one MG classroom, the teacher started off with a simple game of BINGO challenging students to find a Spanish word that started with the given letter. The classroom soon took on a festive environment as the high school students chatted and laughed with their younger counterparts.
In one case, a teacher saw a fifth-grade student who rarely speaks in class open up and talk freely with the older student.
“The student was doing such a good job being so flexible and understanding,” said MHS World Languages Teacher Gisselle Drpich. “A lot of this has to do with preparation and making a personal connection through the postcard. My HS students were nervous too. But I told them to get the smiling face off the shelf and put it on, to be the best you can be.”
This exchange has created the opportunity for both elementary students and high school students to be proud of their Spanish language development and multiculturalism by engaging in letter exchange as well as literacy activities, said Ryan Zak, Director of Linguistic Programs for Elementary School District 75.
“This definitely supports what we’re trying to do in both D75 and D120 in developing the whole student as bilingual, biliterate, multicultural in order to put them on the pathway to career readiness,” Zak said.