Jre Fifth-Graders Surprised By German Pen Pals

Cassidy Shepherd, left, and Kamryn North stretch open the draw string of a festive Christmas package and peek inside.

Cassidy Shepherd, left, and Kamryn North stretch open the draw string of a festive Christmas package and peek inside. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Jennifer Peters shows Mrs. Ines Kuperberg the picture she received of her pen pal.

The hardest part of doing anything is getting started. Writing stories is no exception. I say, just write.

It doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you have a good beginning, a middle that doesn’t bore and an ending that leaves the reader wanting more. How do you accomplish that?

Just write, and eventually, it will come.

Alan Amman’s fifth-grade class at Julia Randall Elementary School is writing to pen pals who are similar students in Germany. What a great idea. The instigator of this wonderful exercise in communication is Ines Kuperberg. Kuperberg started this exercise in communication five years ago.

This year Payson resident Kuperberg got in touch with me and wondered if I would be interested in covering the arrival of the latest batch of letters arriving in December.

Sure, I’m always open to new things or ready to explore new avenues. One never knows what will occur when children are involved, in school, out of school, anywhere kids are, things happen.

Kuperberg and I arrived at Julia Randall Elementary School at about the same time. She opened her van and picked up this big box with labels all over it. She exclaimed; “This is not the usual package. I wonder what is in here?”

I wondered too. They must be writing to an awful lot of students if that box is full of letters, I thought to myself.

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Jacqueline Lopez is surprised by the stuffed animals in her package, and it's scented too!

Kuperberg has a bachelor’s degree in pre-school education and is involved with kids as an adjunct to teachers, to help students learn about other cultures and open their minds to other ways of life. We reached Amman’s fifth-grade class, located on the third floor and found the room, silent and empty.

A slight sigh of relief was exhaled when Amman said they were just at recess and would be back in a few minutes.

Kuperberg was eager to share information about the letter writing. Kuperberg is from the former East German city of Torgau, north and west of Leipzig. Leipzig is about an hour’s drive away.

The American students write letters to students in Kuperberg’s home town of Torgau. All the letters are in English, coming and going. Each year a new class begins the letter writing.

Rim Country Middle School eighth-grade students participate in the pen pal program, as well as the fourth- and fifth-grade students at Julia Randall. Fifteen German students usually participate in this exchange of ideas and letters to their American counterparts. On average 10 letters are traded every year.

There are several positive off-shoots of the letter writing program; some students have taken an active interest in German, some are curious about visiting another country, perhaps not Germany, but at least going to another land. Others have become skilled in geography and finding places on a map.

The kids charged into the classroom, excited from recess and bantered with the photographer, as they had seen me ‘everywhere.’ Many students gave Kuperberg big hugs. They knew the letters were here and waiting to be handed out and explored.

But the big box was a mystery for everyone. Usually the letters come in a manila envelope, so the unopened box sat on a desk, waiting to be opened.

Amman calmed the students and announced that there were no letters. Huh? Just a big box with some unknown contents. Who would like to open the box?

Excited hands shot into the air, waving frantically. Ty Sinyella was given the nod to open the box. Kuperberg helped Sinyella take each package out of the box and hand them out. They were colorfully wrapped Christmas presents. Wow! Who knew?

What a great surprise for everyone who participated in the pen pal exchange. There were pictures of students, games, CDs, books, decals, trading cards, stuffed animals, puzzles, and on and on. Everyone checked everyone else’s cool items. Savannah Casey even got a small Yo-Yo, yo.

So, there you have it. Kids writing, getting unexpected surprises, learning about different people, different life styles, and the whole wide world out there, beyond that classroom window where there are places to explore. And that brings us back to the beginning.

Writing has unexpected rewards. The reward of self-fulfillment, the reward of communicating with people who speak a different language, but understand you. Anyone can write, if you want to write well, just write until you find your voice.

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