Pen pal program connects Cherokee youth

by Mar 19, 2012Front Page, NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments





                The second grade students in Ms. Brake’s and Ms. Brown’s class at New Kituwah Academy were doing what many elementary schools classes do on a typical Monday morning  – working on a science fair project.  They were listening to a popular Beatles song entitled “Yellow Submarine” while they worked on their project about movement of matter. 

                The main difference between this classroom and others across the country is that “Yellow Submarine” was being sung in the Cherokee language and the teachers and students were all speaking the Cherokee language…exclusively. 

                A recent pen pal program with the Cherokee Nation’s language immersion school has the students connecting with each other in unique ways.  First off, all of the letters are written and addressed in the Cherokee language. 

                “The intent of the two programs, since we started this school, was to make sure the students knew they weren’t the only ones their age that were speaking Cherokee fluently, and this continues on with that mission,” said Renissa McLaughlin, Kituwah Preservation and Education Program manager.  “Now, as the children are writing, this helps them with developing their literacy.”

                “It’s just another exciting adventure that we have with Cherokee Nation and we’re constantly looking for opportunities for our kids to get together and our older speakers too,” added McLaughlin.  “Speakers, from our youngest to our oldest, are in constant contact now with our sister tribe.” 

                Rainy Brake, second grade teacher at New Kituwah, commented, “This past year, we have been in contact with the Oklahoma school, but we wanted something more substantial so the kids would have more to talk about when we did Ichatting.  Both schools have the technology so we can Ichat between the schools, but it works a lot better if the kids know who they are talking to.” 

                “We wanted to start creating a relationship and a tie to one another,” Brake added. 

                The first letters from New Kituwah included friendship bracelets for the Cherokee Nation students.  “We got back Valentine’s from Oklahoma and then we started sending out lessons so that each group could learn from the other,” said Brake.   

                The first lesson box sent to Oklahoma contained items the students found in the woods on one of their regular “Forest Friday” outings.  One of the items sent included an eight-pound river rock. 

                Since most postal workers would not be able to read the language, the pen pal letters are bundled into a large envelope that is addressed in English before being sent to Oklahoma. 

                “We’re hoping that this begins to form a base for that long-term relationship,” said Brake.  “It’s starting out as a pen pal program with handwritten letters and postcards, and then from there we’re progressing up to Ichatting, Smartboard technology and Skyping so they can see the entire class at once.”