MURRAY, Ky. —Lauran Young, an alumna of Murray State University’s Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program and a Fulbright grant recipient, has partnered with teachers at Mayfield Elementary School for a pen pal program with students from Spain.
The Fulbright U.S. Student program provides grants for individually designed study/research projects or for English Teaching Assistant programs. Candidates submit a Statement of Grant Purpose defining activities to take place during one academic year in a participating country outside the United States.
During their grants, Fulbright recipients meet, work, live with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences. The program facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis in the classroom, field, home and in routine tasks, allowing the grantee to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things, and the way they think. Through engagement in the community, the individual will interact with their hosts on a one-to-one basis in an atmosphere of openness, academic integrity and intellectual freedom, thereby promoting mutual understanding.
Young, a 2020 Murray State graduate, was slated to begin her Fulbright to Spain in September 2020, but her travel was pushed back to January 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since her arrival in Spain, she has been working at FEC Nuestra Señora a La Piedad in Nájera, La Rioja with seven other teachers and up to sixteen classes with students from 3-16 years old.
For her Fulbright project, English Language Learning (ELL) primary students from both FEC in Nájera and Mayfield Elementary School are partnered in an international pen pal program to promote multiculturalism, target language practice, and create new friendships during the difficult time of a pandemic. They also participate in a shared flip-grid classroom where they can post regulated videos to practice reading, writing, and speaking skills along with target vocabulary in a monitored setting.
Currently, each school has about 25 participants. From FEC, the students are in Third Primary, and from MES, the students are in third and fourth grades. Each letter and video’s subject matter has already been decided to fall in line with the grammatical and vocabulary content students are learning in class.
“Students have already exchanged one letter and plan on exchanging at least two more – one for March and April,” says Young. “They are so excited about writing their new friends and cannot wait to get to know them more.”
To make all of this happen, Young partnered with two teachers she works with in Spain, along with Ginny Garner, Amanda Edwards, Cassandra Huizar and Veronica Velazquez from Mayfield Elementary. Young serves as the contact point for both schools and has regular planning meetings with Garner.
“When Lauran approached me about participating in this project with her and her students, I was thrilled because this is such a unique opportunity to bring to our EL students here in Mayfield,” says Garner. “I love how even though our students are on different sides of the world, they still have so much in common, one of which being that they are all English learners.
“We have written and received our first round of letters and the students absolutely love it! Their faces lit up when they read the letters from their pen pals and I was so proud of the effort they put forth in responding,” says Garner. “They ask me all the time when we are going to write them again, and are anxious to see what their friends wrote back.”
“As of right now, the letters are virtual and uploaded to Google Drive,” says Young. “However, in May, we are planning on letting the students decorate envelopes for their new friends before organizing them to be mailed. Each student will receive the envelope with all of the letters they have exchanged, so they can have the real letter to hold on to.”
“I think not only is this a wonderful opportunity for our students to practice their writing skills, which is always a positive thing, but they are also learning about other parts of the world,” says Garner. “I hope they take away that even if someone is different from you somehow, even from somewhere far away, that we all have more in common than we do that divides us. This connection to others and to the world on a global scale is a powerful thing!”