“I thought the letter exchange would provide a great conduit to expose our fourth graders to a unique culture, as well as connect them more directly to an area we are studying in science,” Johnson said. “In addition, it provides them with an opportunity to see how other cultures are often very similar to ours in terms of needs and wants.”
As part of the fourth grade science program at Laguna Blanca, students learn about natural resources and conservation efforts. Johnson said she thought it was important for her students also to understand the social and political aspects of conservation.
“At the end of the program, the class will discuss what they plan to implement in their lives to contribute to change,” Johnson said.
Laguna Blanca students sent out their first letters to Andavadoaka in December 2004, introducing themselves and their lives in Santa Barbara. Once arriving in Andavadoaka, the letters were used in English classes to encourage the Malagasy students to write about their lives in Andavadoaka and convey a sense of life in a small fishing village on the SW coast of Madagascar.
Some challenges that arose included trying to explain the meaning of snowboarding and raccoons to the Malagasy students. Similarly, the teachers in the United States will probably have some difficulty explaining cassava and zebu to the American children!
The letter exchange programme is now in its tenth month and the letters and pictures sent by the students on both continents are getting more impressive all the time. Recently, Laguna Blanca School also sent boxes of English books for the Andavadoaka students, donated from their school library.