MERIDEN — Throughout the school year, fourth- and fifth-graders from Hanover Elementary School’s bilingual program corresponded with eighth graders from Har-Bur Middle School in Burlington. The pen pals finally met last Friday and, instead of communicating through letters, were able to talk in person and play together.
The students gathered at Winding Trails in Farmington where they got to know each other while playing tennis, fútbol, basketball, Frisbee, and other activities.
Before meeting, students became familiar with one another by sharing photos, videos, and letters. During their first interaction, students sent along a small biography of themselves and a photo.
“We purposefully have a pretty big gap,” said Jean Satmaria, eighth-grade Spanish teacher at Har-bur. “Because the eighth-graders have been protective and nurturing to the little kids. And the little kids look up to the big kids as role models so it’s a good age difference.”
At Hanover, Alicia Lorenzo’s fifth graders and Robert Lorenzo’s fourth graders wrote to Satmaria’s students. The students at Hanover would write in English while the students at Har-Bur wrote in Spanish.
“This was good for our students,” Alicia Lorenzo said. “It’s important for our students to practice their English while creating friendships.”
According to Summer Kennedy, eighth-grader at Har-Bur, meeting in person was a little difficult at first since the children at Hanover didn’t speak fluent English.
“But then we just started understanding and getting to know each other,” she said. “It’s a cool and fun experience.”
Satmaria has been organizing pen pals for her students for 30 years, but the program stopped for a few years during the pandemic.
As the pandemic subsided, Satmaria tried to find another teacher in the state to start the program back up again. Alicia and Robert Lorenzo, who are married, have been arranging pen pals for their students since 2014, so they immediately agreed to work with Satmaria’s students. They arranged pen pals last year, but weren’t able to arrange a meet-up day.
According to Alicia Lorenzo, it’s been a great experience for her students because they have the opportunity to connect with students outside their classroom. Finding a place to meet outside Meriden was also a goal when planning the meetup.
“We want the students to get to know places outside Meriden,” Robert Lorenzo said.
“I was nervous at first, but then it went away because we’re just humans who just happen to speak different languages,” Santiago Cortés, fifth-grader, said in Spanish.
Cortés was playing a game called Gaga Ball with his classmates and the eighth graders from Har-Bur. Students formed a circle and started throwing the ball. The goal was not to let the ball hit their legs.
“Gaga Ball,” Cortés shouted while playing. Students were screaming and shouting, trying not to get hit.
Fifth-grader Sebastián Ramírez said he enjoyed meeting his pen pal.
“It was fun to meet them and I enjoyed playing with them,” he said in Spanish.