By Anna Luberda — When I found out I was moving to Montana I really had no idea what to expect. I had never been out west and I think I assumed I would adjust pretty easily. The adjusting did not come as easily as I would have liked. Although, I will admit that it has become second nature to stop short in the middle of the road to allow a family of deer to pass or to tell kids to dust off their cowboy boots before coming in to my classroom.
I love going on hikes and cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and I enjoy the beautiful sunrise over the mountains every morning on my way to work. Despite the scenery, I miss being back home in the Midwest.
My aunt told me that when she was teaching in Japan, she set up a pen pal program with a school back in Milwaukee. I thought this would be the perfect fix for my homesickness– and of course, a great opportunity for my first graders. I found out that the same teacher I had in first grade was still teaching at my old grade school in Lombard, IL. I sent her an e-mail and she agreed that pen pals would be fun. I knew she wouldn’t be able to send me a Portillo’s Chicago-style hot dog, but an Illinois postmark was close enough.
I went to grade school at Sacred Heart School in Lombard. It was a small, Catholic school that was part of the Sacred Heart Parish. The school where I teach now is very similar. Both schools are small and instill the values and teachings of the Catholic Church in its students. I was excited to get this project started and my class almost hyperventilated when I told them about it.
“Are they really going to send us mail?”
“Do they speak English?”
“Do they ride horses?”
These were only some of the questions my kids managed to sputter while they held back gasps of excitement. The mere idea that they were going to be writing to kids who lived near the Chicago Bulls sent them over the edge. We spent a few days learning how to write a letter and address an envelope. Before I could get my letters out, I received a package from Sacred Heart.
The looks on my students’ faces was priceless. They were in awe of the envelope that was addressed to “Saint Charles First Grade Class.” It was like Christmas came early. I opened the envelope with the kids sitting around me, seething with anticipation. Out poured the letters from 24 first graders all the way from Lombard, IL. They each wrote a sentence or two about what they liked to do for fun. We read all the letters together and the kids immediately got to work on their responses.
I am looking forward to more letters and pictures from our new friends. It was nice to see how much these kids from two very different parts of the country had in common. It will be even more interesting to find out how they differ. I sent out my students’ responses today, and I can’t wait to get letters back from my hometown.