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HUSD Teacher Helps Students Learn French Through Pen Pal Program

To better help Higley Unified School District (HUSD) students understand the culture and language, French Teacher Murielle Inman started a pen pal program with a high school in Belgium.

Mrs. Inman, who teaches French at Higley High School and Williams Field High School, started the program during her first-year teaching at HUSD in 2016. She currently has 13 students in advanced French classes participating in the pen pal program this year.

“I'm a native French speaker and I looked on my old high school's website in Liège Belgium, to see if I could find one of my old English teachers who would help,” Ms. Inman said. “One had not retired yet and put me in contact with Mr. Vandenbosshe, who teaches English and Dutch at Athénée Royal de Chênée. After we both cleared it with our admin, we started having students write emails.” 

Students are connected with pen pals who share similar interests. They begin the year by filling out a form about their likes, their families, and hobbies. Then, Mrs. Inman and Mr. Vandenbosshe match students. HUSD students write in French to their pen pals, who respond in English, allowing students at both high schools the opportunity to practice their foreign language skills. This year, students will also work collaboratively on projects on a common platform, relying on each other to complete the project.

Bella Quier, a junior at Williams Field High School stated, “I enjoy the pen pal program at Williams Field. I love being able to use what I’ve learned for a purpose and learning about my pen pal and their culture. I am grateful that I can explore my potential with the French language through something that I love doing.”

“I absolutely love the pen pal program!!”, said Higley High senior, Angel Nyarko. “It’s one of the reasons I’m glad I kept taking French, because it’s crazy cool to connect with students my age on the other side of the world. Not only do I learn about the daily life of a different culture, but I also see that people are the same everywhere you go.”

“We often take things around us for granted, like having air conditioning on from May till November or having to water our grass and buying milk by the gallons,” Mrs. Inman said. “The students in Belgium are baffled by these small facts of our lives, they imagine desert and cacti all over or ‘high school musical’ movie sets. The same goes for my students as they discover how the school system works in Belgium. Last year, the students at each school (Williams Field, Higley High, and Athénée Royal de Chênée) made videos of their respective schools. That was such a great experience for them to see a glimpse of each other's daily lives, some 5,500 miles away with a 9-hour time difference.”

In addition to the email communication and collaborative projects, over the years when Mrs Inman has gone home to see family in Belgium, she has visited Mr. Vandenbosshe’s class. Each time, she brings American gifts from her students and returns home with Belgian gifts – This year is no exception. “The students are so excited about this, and the students in Belgium had so many questions about our lives here.” 

“Learning a foreign language is always way more than just learning its grammar and vocabulary,” Mrs. Inman added. “My colleague and I want to give the students a real-life experience; we both hope it makes a lasting impression on them.”