A box full of flowers, sports equipment, smiley faces and kittens sits next to the door of Camille Zumbro’s fifth-grade classroom at St. Patrick Catholic School in Arroyo Grande.
The box’s contents — stickers of all shapes and sizes — are waiting to be packaged up and sent more than 8,000 miles away to fifth-grade students at Howrah Christian School in Kolkata, India, as part of both schools’ pen pals program, which matches up students in the same grade and has them write letters to each other throughout their elementary school years.
Students in Zumbro’s class began writing letters and exchanging video messages with their counterparts in India in the fourth grade, and will probably keep writing to them next year, she said.
“It’s really wonderful to open up the doors to these students to people around the world,” Zumbro said. “The students really enjoy talking with them and learning the similarities and differences they have. They’ve really liked communicating with a different group of people in a different place about their way of life.”
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Last year, the St. Pat’s students collected pens, pencils, notebooks, and other school supplies for their pen pals, but this year they wanted to switch it up a bit, Zumbro said.
It’s fun because they have a lot of different customs, so they learn different things.
Eli Marsalek, fifth grader
“What the kids (in India) really liked were the stickers, because they were kind of an extravagance and something they didn’t typically get in school,” she said.
The St. Pat’s students and teachers decided to hold a sticker drive this year, and collected a plastic container full of sticker sheets from their schoolmates, staff, faculty and the community.
Zumbro said she was unsure exactly how many stickers were in the box, but estimated there were “at least a thousand.”
To accompany the stickers, the students also made brightly-colored cards and wrote notes to their specific pen pals, asking about their lives in India and sharing some of their interests.
“She likes dancing, so that’s mostly my topic with her,” Jessie McNeill, 11, said of her pen pal, Palek. “She also sends a lot of cool drawings, and so I sometimes draw some stuff, and she draws stuff and sends it back.”
In his most recent letter, Eli Marsalek, 11, chatted with his new pen pal, Farhanaaz, about handwriting and siblings (Marsalek has two sisters and a brother). He said he enjoys writing to the Indian students because it’s a chance to learn something new.
“It’s fun because they have a lot of different customs, so they learn different things,” he said. “So it’s fun to see what they learn and how it’s similar to what we learn.”