The Colorado Education Association honored the work of educators across our state today on National Teacher Day, May 7, by highlighting the dedication of two Colorado teachers who took a classroom ‘pen pal’ project to the next level to foster cultural understanding between students of two very different schools.
Hanson Elementary School in Commerce City, Colo., is less than 20 miles from Kohl Elementary School in Broomfield. The schools, though, are “worlds apart” according to Kohl first grade teacher Adele Bravo, a member of the Boulder Valley Education Association.
“They are very different, very diverse,” Adele said of Hanson students, which is why she teamed up with a second grade teacher at the Commerce City school to bring their classes together as pen pals.
“In my class, I have 17 native Spanish speakers and five native English speakers, so the language and culture really do play a role in our classroom and in our school,” said Hanson’s Mallory Bravo, a member of the School District 14 Classroom Teachers Association.
Kohl has few English language learners by comparison. Family income is another big difference in the school demographics. Adele says about 90% of the Hanson students qualify for free or reduced lunch, whereas only about 20% of her students have that need.
The differences leave the pen pals with much to find out about each another.
“It doesn’t matter what we look like, the language we speak, the color of our skin, our clothes. We can work together with the world,” said Adele on building the school partnership. “We had this mantra our whole school year, ‘The World is Our Family,’ so this was an extension of our thinking.”
The student friendships grew despite the teachers not having funds to get the kids together. Adele solved that problem by winning a student achievement grant from the National Education Association. The schools were able to purchase computer tablets to open up communication between the students through videos and live, online connections. And on a snowy day in April, Mallory’s students took a field trip to Kohl to meet Adele’s students in person for the first time.
“A lot of our kids grow up in the community and stay in the community, and to visit a different community, a different school, means the world to them,” said Mallory. “They’ve connected on a very personal level. As opposed to just sharing ‘what I did for the school day,’ it’s more of ‘this is my family, this is who I am and I really want to know who you are.’”
These vastly different schools do have something in common – teachers named Bravo. That’s not a coincidence. Adele, a 21-year veteran teacher and a former Colorado Teacher of the Year, is Mallory’s mother. Adele and Mallory started up pen pal relationships for their classes when Mallory began her teaching career at Hanson three years ago.
“I am so proud of her,” said Adele of her daughter. “We said, ‘Let’s bring these diverse kids together,’ and it is so much fun. She is an amazing teacher and I have learned so much from her while doing this project.”
Mallory was excited for her students, but also for the chance to teach beside her mom.
“She is such a role model to me, Teacher of the Year,” said Mallory. “I look up to her so much, this is just the ultimate collaboration.”
Video Link: Watch Pen Pal School Visit picture video on CEA’s YouTube Channel.
Filed under: Public Education, Quality Teachers, Teacher Profiles, Teaching and learning conditions, Teaching Profession | Tagged: culture, diversity, english language learners, field trip, NEA grant, pen pal, student, teacher | Leave a Comment »