East Central Elementary class stays connected with Italian pen pals during pandemic

Gary Jones and his gifted sixth grade East Central Elementary School class talk to their Italian pen pals over Zoom video chat.

Even after the school year was turned upside down, one East Central Elementary School class continues to keep in touch with some long distance friends.

Gary Jones, the teacher for the gifted class at East Central, met Ilenia Marzi on the educational website Edmodo. Marzi, a teacher in Livorno, Italy, was looking for an American teacher who would be interested in setting up a pen pal program with her sixth grade students, who are learning English.

Jones immediately agreed and set up the pen pal program with his sixth grade gifted class.

Since November, the kids have been in contact with each other on a weekly basis and have developed quite the friendship.

As the kids shared their interests and favorite books and movies, they began to realize that they had a lot in common, despite living in different countries.

“The more we learned about our Italian pen pals, the more students were telling me ‘They’re just like us!,’” Jones said. “It was beautiful to see the similarities and to watch that connection take place.”

The kids have also been learning Italian phrases to communicate with “their Italian buddies” — such as “buongiorno,” which means “good morning.”

In December, the kids sent a box full of toys, letters and pamphlets to their new friends to showcase their own culture.

However, in late February, Livorno began their shelter-in-place orders as the COVID-19 pandemic consumed Italy.

To keep their friends’ spirits up, Jones’ class began sending more videos, pictures and letters showcasing different parts of American culture. The Italian class loved it and Jones felt that they helped them stay positive.

Then, only a few weeks later, the schools here began closing. And just like their American friends, the Italian class stepped up and offered them comfort.

“The relationship has made this experience more tolerable. It’s a beautiful thing,” Jones said.

As both classes continue online learning, they also continue interacting with each other on the Edmodo platform. Recently, both classes were able to talk to each other in a Zoom call.

Jones encourages all teachers to try out a pen pal program with their classes and watch their students interact with kids from across the world.

“That’s how we connect the world and how we meet new people,” he said. “It just broadens your horizons.”

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