Ask a Teacher
Q: What is the most important thing that your students have learned by corresponding with an overseas Peace Corps Volunteer?
A: My students have learned that differences are not “weird,” but different. Every culture does what it does for a reason.
Wendy Urquidez; Correspondence Match participant since 1998; Peace Corps Volunteer, Kenya, 1991 – 1993
A: Over the years my students (and I) have learned that we do not live in isolation. Ours truly is a global community.
R. P. Janke, Correspondence Match participant since 1991
A: My students are in a large, urban high school. One of the most profound lessons my students have learned is that something that one person considers a “necessity” (i.e., a personal cell phone or cable television) is a “dream fantasy” for someone else. When they first realize that things they take for granted, such as clean, running water or 24 hours of electricity a day, are not always available, they inevitably sit quietly to digest that fact. The next question frequently raised by my students is why anyone from the U.S. would choose to go to these areas for an extended length of time and not be paid an exorbitant amount of money. The ensuing discussions usually cause many of my students to question their values and see beyond themselves and their insular lives. For these two reasons, I look forward to communicating with a PCV.
Barbara Weiss, Correspondence Match participant since 1992
Q: Why do you consider the Correspondence Match program to be an important part of your curriculum?A: Why do I consider a World Wise Schools correspondence important for my students in the northeast kingdom of Vermont? We live in a pretty rural area—beautiful green hills tucked between the Green Mountains of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. On the surface it is a picture-postcard world. We experience luscious green summers, spectacular fall foliage, sparkling winter wonderlands, but between 60 and 70 percent of our students are eligible for free breakfast and lunch. Many of our families cannot afford to travel to show their children the world.
World Wise Schools Correspondence Match gives students a reason to travel vicariously and to investigate a part of the world beyond our rolling landscape. They learn from the volunteer’s point of view. This gives the students perspective: Our children may be poor by American standards, but they have access to clean water, free public education, free breakfast and lunch, health care, and other privileges that children in other parts of the world may not be able to access. This comparing and contrasting forces them to evaluate their roles in their home community as well as in the global community. For example, when a correspondent was in Africa, they could listen to African pop music styles, grow an African plant in the classroom, adopt an endangered African animal, as well as send solar cookers to an area where using trees for fuel contributes to the deforestation that is creating desertification.
One returned Peace Corps Volunteer traveled four hours to visit them to tell them about her work as a nurse doing health education with children in an area affected by the African AIDS epidemic, and to explain why she felt the need to go back to Africa for a third year. When a correspondent experienced the devastating earthquake in China, my students scrambled in the last few weeks of a school year to have a fundraiser and donate the money in her honor to the Vermont Red Cross China Fund. It is also important for me to see them using communication skills learned in class in real situations. They send pictures, letters, emails, packages, and other materials. That making this connection, this bond, is also fun, is just an added plus. So why is the World Wise Schools program important? My students learn more than geography and language arts: They learn perspective and empathy.
Kris Ingram, Correspondence Match participant since 1998
Q: How has participating in the Correspondence Match program influenced your students?A: For each volunteer I create a folder where we collect all of the letters, postcards, brochures, and so forth sent by the volunteer to the students. Each folder for every volunteer is available to students as one of the activities they can do on test days to make use of the time remaining after turning in their test. Many students thoroughly enjoy reading the letters and seeing the pictures sent by volunteers from past years. I also use those folders to introduce the idea of the Correspondence Match program to students who are new to our Spanish program and when we are matched with a new volunteer. The folder for our current Peace Corps Volunteer got its start when I downloaded photos from her blog and copied some of her captions to include with those pictures. We send individual and group greetings in the form of notes, letters, photos, and mementos at the beginning of each month to our current volunteer. The students always look forward to receiving a new letter or sometimes email from their volunteer!
I know that time and again many of my students have been inspired by the example to serve and share that our Peace Corps Volunteers have described to them in their letters. The notion of going to an unknown place to live and work in another culture using Spanish on a daily basis gives my students a lot of food for thought! Our volunteers have served as remarkable role models for my high-school aged students, as they have told us about the frustrations and rewards of working on their projects and adjusting to a new culture. By sharing their experiences, they help students see the value of studying a second language and help them become more understanding and receptive to new ideas. Over the years my students and I have learned unique information about Costa Rica, Bolivia, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Honduras through the eyes of our volunteers—things we could never have learned from researching those countries. We are always intrigued by the descriptions of daily life and local transportation. I appreciate the fact that our volunteers are usually in small towns because they are able to describe traditions and celebrations that are often lost in metropolitan areas. The Correspondence Match program has been a unique way for the students of Ludington High School to connect with the world beyond the confines of our small town. Initially my students have never even heard of the Peace Corps, and inevitably, after getting to know what the Peace Corps is all about through their volunteer, some will say that they are very interested in joining after college!
The creation of the Correspondence Match program was a wonderful idea! I am grateful to everyone who works to keep this program available to teachers and their students.
April Quisenberry-Alvarado, Correspondence Match participant since 1994
A: It has been part of my curriculum for many years. My dad traveled all over the world with his job, so we talked about other countries at home. But this is not the case for most students today. My students love learning about another place through this format. They are really excited when we hear from our pen pal.
Susan McKee, Correspondence Match participant since 1998