Pen Pals Making a Difference

MSU Students: Lauren VerMeulen, Zach Retterath, and Melanie Martin
Mentor Teacher: Jeana Harper, Detroit Public Schools
MSU Instructor: Kim Keglovitz Email:
Date: May 2012 Building/Grade Level: Middle and High School

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Global Awareness and Communication

Type of Service


Point of Entry

Learning Spanish writing through communication with native Spanish speakers

Project Overview

Give a brief overview of the project you are planning.

We will be having the students connect with a classroom in Guatemala and have the students each have a pen pal whom they will exchange letters with over the course of the semester. While the students are writing letters, we will also help donate school supplies to the school in Guatemala. The students will come up with ways to raise money and which school supplies they want to send.

Rationale & Goal

State the goal of your SL project.

We hope that students are able to enjoy taking the time to get to know students in another culture, and are able to make similarities and differences about the Guatemalan and American cultures. While doing this they will be also helping the students get materials to hopefully improve the education of the Guatemalan students


Effective Practice: MEANINGFUL SERVICE

Service learning actively engages participants in meaningful and personally relevant service activities.

What community need will you address and how did you determine the need?

The need of adequate school supplies in Guatemalan schools to improve their education. We had previously heard of this issue in other courses.

What service will you provide to address the need?

The students with raise money to buy school supplies to send to the school of their pen pals.


Effective Practice: LINK TO CURRICULUM

Service learning is intentionally used as an instructional strategy to meet learning goals and/or content standards.

How is this project related to your curriculum?

We have targeted a few curriculum standards with the pen pal system by including writing and reading communication with other students. We also have linked in research to expand knowledge that the students will be receiving.

What are the educational goals?

Students learn similarities and differences between Guatemalan and American cultures, while improving their Spanish writing skills by continuously writing letters back and forth with Guatemalan students.


Curriculum Crafter Connections

Strand: 06 ELA: (Writing)
TLW: Participate in shared research to build and present knowledge. (Gist: Research to Build and Present Knowledge)

Strand: 06 ELA: (Reading Informational Text)
TLW: Demonstrate an integration of knowledge and ideas to understand the informational text selection. (Gist: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas – Informational Text)

Strand: (Sociology)
TLW: Investigate dynamics of mainstream culture and subcultures as related to communication, expectation and change. (Gist: Dynamics of Culture)

Strand: 09ELA: (Writing, Speaking, and Expressing)
TLW: Investigate a community issue, using multiple resources and design an authentic project to promote social action. (Gist: Community Issues and Social Action)


Effective Practice: REFLECTION

Service learning incorporates multiple challenging reflection activities that are ongoing and that prompt deep thinking and analysis about oneself and one’s relationship to society.

What form(s) of reflection will you use with the students to help them identify what they have learned and accomplished?

Have the students write a reflection essay at the end of the unit describing what they learned from their pen pals and if they enjoyed the project. In this reflection students should also describe what conclusions they came to regarding similarities and differences between the lifestyles of the Guatemalan students and their own.


Effective Practice: DIVERSITY

Service learning promotes understanding of diversity and mutual respect among all participants.

What types of diverse perspectives and experiences will be explored as part of your project?

(i.e.: cultural, generational, abilities/disabilities, learning styles, etc.)

Cultural Diversity: The students will learn about the diversity of the cultures of Guatemala and the United States through the letters with the students. They will explain what their lives at home are like, as well as at school. Other topics could include: holiday celebrations, extracurricular activities, etc.


Effective Practice: YOUTH VOICE

Service learning provides youth with a strong voice in planning, implementing, and evaluating service learning experiences with guidance from adults.

How will students gain ownership of the project?

They get to decide what school supplies to send to the Guatemalans, as well as how they will raise the money to buy the supplies. The students also can have a say in what topics they write about to their pen pals, as decided by the class as a whole.



Service learning partnerships are collaborative, mutually beneficial, and address community needs.

Who will you partner with for this project?

Office Max, Office Depot, Staples, or other office supply dealer.

How will students benefit from this partnership?

They get the supplies that they need to send to the classroom in Guatemala, as opposed to just sending money.

How will the partner benefit from this collaboration?

They will be helping students in Guatemala and expanding their market. By having their products involved, the school shows support of the company and therefore they could get more business as well.



Service learning engages participants in an ongoing process to assess the quality of implementation and progress toward meeting specified goals, and uses results for improvement and sustainability.

How will you assess the student learning goals?

We will be keeping track of the letters that the students send to their pen pals to see how their writing is developing, as well as assigning a reflective essay at the end of the unit to see what the students took away from this service learning project.

How will you assess your service goals?

We will keep track of how much money we raised and we can continue to keep in touch with the students and the school each year by helping a new class out until all of the classrooms have adequate supplies.



Service learning has sufficient duration and intensity to address community needs and meet specified outcomes.

How will you prepare students for this experience?

We are going to be showing videos of schools in Guatemala to the students as well as having them research the area to get a better idea of what life is like in Guatemala.

What are some sample possible activities students might do as part of this project?

Write pen pal letters, conduct bake sale, fundraise, research, etc.



The three arms of sustainability are environmental stewardship, economic growth, and social progress. Think planet, profit, and people.

Describe how your project addresses the issue of sustainability?

Environmental stewardship: Send supplies that are made of recycled, eco-friendly products.

Economic growth: Stimulate U.S. economy by buying products, as well as saves the Guatemalan school money from buying school supplies.

Social progress: Influences social interaction with other cultures.