Olympic School Friends Pen Pal Program
The Pen Pal Program connects students around the world, through the magic of letters and imagination.
The first year:
The Olympic School Friends Pen Pal Program was launched in September, 2016. In its first year the program connected 52 students; 26 from a school in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and 26 students from the Olympic Primary School in Nairobi, Kenya. It was a year of discovery as the children learned that, while there are many differences in their day to day lives, they also have much in common! They shared stories of friendships, family life, school, favourite pastimes, hopes and dreams.
How does it work?
English is a second (or even third) language for many students at the Olympic Primary School, so we have found that this program works best for students in grades 5 to 8. Teachers are invited to apply to be part of the Pen Pal Program by emailing Alison Goodfellow, coordinator of Olympic School Friends. Space for this program is very limited and planning ahead for the following school year is highly recommended.
Once a class has been accepted into the program, Alison coordinates with the local teacher, as well as with her partners at the Olympic Primary School, to pair up students of similar ages to be pen pals. In the fall Alison visits the local school and gives a presentation about Kibera and the Olympic Primary School. This presentation includes geographical context, some insight into the daily life of a resident of Kibera, as well as information about the staff and students of Olympic Primary School.
Unlike the Canadian school year that runs from September until June, students at the Olympic Primary School have three terms that start at the beginning of January and run until the beginning of November, with a 3 week break in April and another 3 week break in August. The local school students write the first letter before the end of December so it is ready for the Olympic Primary School students when they start their school year in January. The Olympic Primary School students send their first letter back by the end of January and then it is the local students turn. Each class has one month to send their replies and Pen Pals are able to exchange 3 letters each before the end of June.
Because it takes so long for physical letters to travel between Canada and Kenya, and the mail system is not reliable in Kibera, letters are exchanged electronically. Alison coordinates the sending of the letters back and forth between the local school and Olympic Primary School.
In June, Alison visits the local school again to wrap up the program, get valuable feedback from students and to give each one of the Pen Pals a certificate in recognition of their participation in the program.
Because this program includes in class presentations, etc. it is currently only open to schools in the Ottawa, Ontario area.
Why is it important?
We believe that it is never too early for a child to become a global citizen, understanding that they are part of a big world with many possibilities. The Pen Pal Program provides an opportunity for students to learn about different lifestyles and cultures. It can open their eyes to the many things that make people around the world different and also the many ways which we are the same. It is always amazing to see the wonder and joy when they connect with another child halfway around the world.
This program can be an excellent part of the school curriculum, tying in to geography, social studies and english, or simply as a special extra activity to enrich the student's school and life experience.