From America with Love: Shepherd Elementary Students Reach Out to Iranian Pen Pals
May 27, 2010
Call it the first act of civil diplomacy between two nations at the center of recent tensions among the West and Middle Eastern nations.
Or, at least, a buddy-building exercise in letter-writing, geography and communications.
Students in Bruce Byers’ kindergarten class at Shepherd Elementary School in Northwest recently received responses to letters they sent to students at a private child-care center and school in Tehran, the capital of Iran. The correspondence was arranged by Byers’ aide, Faezeh Nobari, who lived in Tehran most of her life before moving to the United States about four years ago.
“This opens their imagination,” said Nobari, whose cousin works at the Sepehr School in Tehran. “They [the Sepehr School administration] loved it. The principal at the private school said he wished they had started this at the beginning of the year.”
Shepherd students reached out to their pen pals earlier this spring in support of the school’s burgeoning International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which offers students a rigorous curriculum that prepares them to live, learn and work in an increasingly globalized world.
Each school used typed form-letters written in English with spaces throughout that allow students to personalize messages to their own pen pal. They shared their likes and dislikes in the letters as well as drawings and notes about what they learn in school.
Shepherd kindergartner Carlisse Agee, for example, told her pen pal, Rashin, that she likes her school because “it is fun,” and her favorite things to do are “playing blob and play with my dog.”
Rashin also likes school because “it is fun” and likes “playing with ball and ride my bike.”
“It’s cool because you get to send [your letter] to a whole different place,” said Madeline Lewis, a 6-year-old in Mr. Byers’ class.
“I would like to be friends because [my pen pal] sounds like a cool girl or boy.”
Six-year-old Masai Jenkins wrote to Vace, the daughter of Nobari’s cousin, who attends the child-care program at the Sepehr School, and told her about his interests in basketball and surfing.
“I think this is very nice,” he said, while drawing a picture of him and his pen pal. He said if he ever met his pen pal in person, “I would speak to her about her life.”
Keshav Mehta-Harwitz, 6, said he likes writing to his pen pal because, “It’s fun writing to kids on another continent.” Mehta-Harwitz said he learned that Iranian students are studying English and I tell them I like reading and other things.”
Nobari said the children to whom Shepherd students are writing speak and write in their native language, Farsi, but have learned some English. She said they are among the most affluent in Tehran. They watch Western television programming, travel abroad and likely have a positive image of Americans, Nobari said.
“This is not Iran,” said Nobari, who grew up in Iran during the hostage crisis of the late 1970s, the Islamic Revolution and war between Iran and neighboring Iraq. “This school is very exclusive, but I would compare it to this school.”
The young students in America and Iran share similar likes and dislikes: they like games, reading, family and sharing those interests with students in another country.
For example, Tiana, an Iranian student in Ms. Sheila’s class at the Sepher school, said she likes school because, “It has toy’s and because we read lots of books.” She tells her pen pal, Tiara Dupee in Mr. Byers’ class, that her favorite thing to do is, “Hug my mom.” But she says she does not like to “hug my dad and I do not like to kiss frogs.”
Beyond being an overseas “shout out” to students of the same age, the pen pal program supports several educational objectives at Shepherd.
“Educationally, it should expand their knowledge of geography and the world, and they should know there are places beyond our community, city, state and country that have written and spoken languages that are different from their own,” Byers said. “Beyond that, and especially in terms of fostering international-mindedness of our IB aspirations, it fits well with the IB philosophy of open-mindedness and tolerance.”
Shepherd Elementary School Principal Jamie Miles said pen pal programs are “a great way for students to interact with students around the world of different cultures and beliefs.”
Byers noted that, absent the voices of saber-rattling politicians, revolutionaries, generals and diplomats, people are largely the same no matter where they’re from – and the voices of the young serve as a poignant reminder.
“It’s very interesting because the official line from their viewpoint is we’re the ‘Great Satan’ and they’re part of the ‘Axis of Evil,’” Byers said. “But the kids, they say, ‘I like to play and have fun,’ which is identical to the joys and aspirations of our kids.”
View Tiana's Pen Pal Letter
View Dara's Pen Pal Letter
View Carillise's Pen Pal Letter
View Rose's Pen Pal Letter
View Rashin's Pen Pal Letter
View Antonio's Pen Pal Letter
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