Pen pal

Sarah Dikum (far left, back row), a math teacher for the Peace Corps, poses with the 8th grade ‘pen pals’ from DuBois Central Catholic Middle School that have partnered with her math students in Tanzania, South Africa. Central students are holding what their counterparts in Tanzania made for them. (Front, from left:) Aiden Good, Michelangelo Piccirillo, Cartar Kosko, Brendan Paisley, Emma Peck, Izabella Hartzell, Sophia Rooney, Ally Noemi, Sarah DeCarlo, Mia Edwards, Bella Blakley, and Katelyn Smith; (Standing, from left:) Sarah Dikum, Luke Swisher, Ben Gritzer, Matthew Pyne, Travis White, Neel Gupta, Anna Vandervort, Dylan Hannah, Sophie Mangiantini, Jackie Reilly, Juliet Elias, Faith Jacob, Megan Pittsley, Alyssa Johnston, and Rose Whipple.

DuBOIS — Establishing “pen pal” relationships with students in a village in Tanzania began almost 18 months ago for DuBois Central Catholic Middle School students.

The journey began when Sarah Dikum, a Peace Corps volunteer and relative of a DCC student, visited Central to speak about her upcoming adventure as a math teacher in a small village along the coast of South Africa.

As Dikum explained to the students in her first presentation after graduating college with a solid background in math and science, she chose not to enter the corporate world because she felt a calling and a higher-purpose in life, which could be achieved through serving in the Peace Corps.

After extensive training, Dikum soon began teaching math in a small village in Tanzania, along the coast of the Indian Ocean.

With much enthusiasm, she will soon be completing her second year in the Peace Corps and has already applied for a third year serving in this tiny village, according to Tara Kramer, social studies teacher at DCC who is coordinating the pen-pal effort.

“Expanding student understanding of other cultures is always a goal in my social studies classes,” said Kramer.

While studying South Africa and Tanzania specifically, she began working with her then seventh-graders to each complete a small poster, one that could be easily mailed to the students of Dikum. The assigned topic was “All About Me.” She asked students to use their creativity in sharing who they are by way of photos, words, symbols and signs.

Thanks to Dikum’s aunt, Elaine Jacob who also assists in Central’s elementary library, the small posters reached the students in Tanzania.

In response, Dikum’s students created small posters themselves using the same topic for their “pen pals” at Central.

Recently, Dikum returned to Central for another presentation and brought with her the pen pal posters created by her students for their American counterparts here at DCC.

It has been an eye-opening experience for students at DCC.

According to Kramer, the pen pal project has brought culture awareness to a new level, one that is both personal and meaningful.

And the students seem to agree.

“It was cool seeing what they like doing, such as digging, which is their term for farming,” said Katelyn Smith.

“It was very informative to learn how little English our pen pals knew and how much they have now learned; I now realize how nice and kind they really are,” said Sophie Mangiantini.

“I thought my pen pal was cool. It was interesting to see we had sports in common,” said Ally Naomi-Dinger.

The next pen-pal project, “A Day in the Life,” will find students at Central and Tanzania logging an entire day’s activities from getting up in the morning to going to bed at night.

“This cultural exchange might be even more enlightening than the first, showing students here in the states just how fortunate and blessed we really are,” said Kramer.

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