Hermine Lomanga, an eighth-grader, and Mary Ellen Fradgley, a college student, discovered they have some shared interests. Both like winter, school and holidays with their families.
They have gotten to know each other through a unique arrangement between Nicollet Middle School and St. Olaf College in Northfield. Younger and older students are matched as penpals and write letters to each other.
The project began about 10 years ago when Nicollet teacher Amy Olson was looking for a way to boost the writing skills of her students who are English Learners (EL). She has a connection with St. Olaf College because she serves on the Teacher Advisory Board of its Department of Education.
"I want my students to do some authentic writing using their academic English writing skills," said Olson, "and also to learn about what college life is like from the perspective of current college students."
The partnership is also a learning opportunity for the college students.
“The penpal program gives them a chance to get to know current middle school students, observe their learner language in writing, discover their challenges and joys, and see what their day is like in school,” said Dr. Jill Watson from St. Olaf.
The penpals have been writing to each other since September but met for the first time on Dec. 13 when the college students visited Nicollet. The get-together started with structured interviews and getting-to-know you activities. Then the Nicollet students took their penpals to their classes.
"In the spring, we’ll visit St. Olaf, take tours and hopefully my students can meet up with their college penpals again," said Olson.
Pictured above: Nicollet Middle School eighth grader Hamza Odorosh and St. Olaf College student Twyla Pedersen participate in a pen pal letter exchange.