World language is a subject area that all Marian students are required to take for at least two years. Many girls choose to continue and take a third year, and some girls even take it a step further and take a language all four years at Marian. Those girls who take Spanish at an advanced level can end up taking the highest level, AP Spanish V, taught by Mrs. Amanda Pritchard.
Pritchard teaches many levels of Spanish and is passionate about teaching her students a new language. As she continued to teach, she wanted to find a way to expand her teaching and expand the different ways in which her students could learn. What better way to learn a new language than to fully immerse yourself in it? This question led Pritchard to create a pen pal program with another Omaha school.
One of Pritchard’s dearest friends, Alli Fox, is a teacher at Spring Lake Magnet school in southeast Omaha. They discussed “how fun it would be to be teachers together and have [their] students be friends,” Pritchard says. Realizing that Pritchard’s students “needed more real-world Spanish experiences” and Fox’s students would benefit from deeper writing practice, they decided to start a program where their students would write letters back and forth to each other throughout the school year.
Fox and Pritchard have been friends since their time at Creighton University together, and their friendship has always “centered around community,” Pritchard explained. She enjoys being able to connect her students with a different part of the city that many of them have not had much experience with before.
Throughout the six years of doing this letter program, Pritchard has recognized other numerous benefits for her students. She believes that it is “exciting to make connections” and “very powerful to be bilingual.” Her students get to have interactions with younger kids and “speak with real people,” a skill that is crucial when trying to learn and understand a second language. For the Spring Lake students, they are very skilled in their speaking skills, but benefit greatly from the writing practice that this pen pal program involves.
Six years later, this program gained attention and recognition beyond the walls of Marian and Spring Lake. Local news station KMTV 3 News Now visited both schools in late September to speak with Pritchard, Fox and their students about this experience. The students expressed how writing these letters has allowed them to form personal connections with each other while continuously expanding their Spanish reading and writing skills.
One of Pritchard’s AP Spanish students, senior Isi Raczynski, has been able to recognize these benefits in her own life. She explains that one of her favorite parts of participating in this pen pal program is “meeting with our pen pals in person” and getting to know their personalities. She describes how writing the letters helps build connections with the kids which allows for Marian girls to have more things to discuss with them. Raczynski noted that she’s “learned that Spanish can be practiced anywhere” and gains a lot from interacting with the kids because “they’re just happy to talk and will not judge you based on grammar or accent.”
Pritchard’s favorite parts of this process are “seeing the girls’ faces when they open their letters” and getting to interact with the Spring Lake kids in person, whether they come to Marian or Marian girls go visit them there. This pen pal idea has proven to be a great way for students of various ages and walks of life to practice language and expand their learning beyond the classroom.