Methow Valley, Paschal Sherman students come together at festival
By Marcy Stamper
In an era of electronic communications, instant messaging, and mailboxes filled mainly with bogus sweepstakes offers, writing and receiving actual letters still seems special—at least if you’re in first or second grade.
“Kids who normally don’t want to write will fill pages and pages with things they want to tell their pen pal about themselves,” said Laura Garrigues, a second-grade teacher at Methow Valley Elementary School. “I think it’s because they have an authentic audience their own age.”
Methow Valley second graders, who have been exchanging letters with their peers at Paschal Sherman Indian School in Omak, got to meet in person last month at the annual Sunflower Festival at Paschal Sherman.
“The best part is, it’s a great way to teach them to write,” said Yong Dienst, a first-grade teacher at Paschal Sherman, whose classes have been pen pals with first and second graders at Methow Valley Elementary for 16 years.
“They are so motivated,” said Dienst, who said the kids write about their pets, brothers and sisters, favorite colors and video games, and what they like to do after school. One wrote that his cousin was teaching him to play basketball. Another likes cheetahs because they are so fast.
Waiting for the bus
On May 23, 36 second-graders from the Methow made the trip to the festival. “My students all stood on top of their chairs waiting for the bus that said ‘Methow Valley,’” said Dienst.
Most kids were shy about the formal introductions, but within a few minutes they were playing games, drawing pictures of their pets, and sharing favorite books. They also exchanged gifts—Dienst’s students made medicine wheels, which represent the balance of life, and the Methow students gave their pen pals friendship bracelets.
Some of the second graders unfortunately did not find their pen pals, since their classes were out enjoying the festival and didn’t have formal introductions scheduled. But second-grade pen pals Ayla Belsby, in Garrigues’ class, and Paschal Sherman’s Layla Flett sought each other out during lunch and had lots to talk about. In their letters, they shared stories about holidays and made elaborate puzzle letters for each other to decipher. They plan to continue their correspondence this summer.
Paschal Sherman first grader Syriana Marchand and Methow Valley second grader Sapphire Ekblad exchanged letters about their menageries—Syriana has four dogs, one hamster, two chickens and a goldfish, and Sapphire has one dog, one gerbil, a chicken and a horse.
The kids don’t just write drab letters on notepaper—they create jigsaw-puzzle letters that have to be reassembled before they can be read, and send drawings and photos.
In addition to improving their writing, the regular correspondence helps students practice their penmanship and develop social skills. After they write a first draft, Garrigues has her students use the dictionary to look up words that may be wrong. Dienst said her students, who are a year younger than their Methow pen pals, work hard to match the penmanship of the older kids.
The students discover how much they have in common, although they also learn about some cultural differences. For example, about one-fourth of the 170 students at Paschal Sherman live at the school. Students there can also study Salish, starting in kindergarten. “They write about school, and what it means to be a Native American,” said Garrigues.
At the Sunflower Festival, many Methow Valley students joined the traditional dancing and viewed historic photos. A trout-fishing pond and the lavish playground were particularly popular.
They also had the opportunity to sample traditional foods, including salmon and elk (both a hit) and camas root, bitterroot and black moss, which older students at Paschal Sherman harvest and prepare with tribal elders. “The salmon was delicious,” said Methow Valley second grader Aksel Thomson, but he and many of his classmates didn’t sample the other delicacies.
After the visit, Garrigues said several students commented that their favorite part was watching the Native American dancing and seeing the traditional dresses worn during the powwow.
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