Karen Sunderhaft is a teacher that the Storypal Team met this past year. She was teaching 7th grade Honor English Language Arts.
What motivated you to look for a pen pal exchange?
I fell in love with a great book called “I’ll Always Write Back to You: How one letter changed two worlds” by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda with Liz Welch. It is about a young girl from Pennsylvania who picked a pen pal from Zimbabwe when she was in 3rd grade. This book is a story of their letters, over many years, and how their friendship grew and changed both of their lives and their family’s lives forever.
I had my 7th grade Honor’s and Gifted English students read this book, and they enjoyed it as much as I did. It made them yearn for a pen pal from another land. Storypal was an excellent way for me to help them find that connection with students from a different part of the world.
I have been teaching for more than 20 years. I have a degree to teach from Kindergarten to 8th grade as well as extra teaching degrees to teach a special education class or even honors or gifted class.
I believe that my role as their teacher is not only to teach them how to write and to expose them to some very rewarding and thought to provoke books, but I really want to help them become more aware of other people and various parts of the world beyond themselves so they can begin to grow as a person.
There is another great children’s book by Dr. Seuss called “Hooray for Diffendoofer Day.” I love this book because it sums up how I want my classroom to be – a beautiful place to question, explore and examine literature, and the world beyond our doors and to have my students figure out where they see themselves. I also love to be creative and to challenge my student’s in many ways.Do you think lifelong friendships are possible?
Yes, I absolutely believe that lifelong friends are possible. We can meet them in the most unique ways. It is those people we meet who share the same passions we do or even those who may seem so very different than ourselves that they inspire us to be better or help us define what is essential in our lives. I have a very good friend named Jenny, who my daughter helped me find as a friend.
When my daughter, Jessica, was 4 years old I took her to a children’s book story time. She went up to Jenny and her daughter and insisted that they have lunch with us. We had never met Jenny or her daughter before that day, but we all decided to have lunch together. Jenny is still my friend today – 13 years later and even after she moved away from Ohio to Texas. I get to see Jenny next month, and I can’t wait!.
I also have loved getting to know Sumbal from Storypal. From the first time we spoke, it was an easy conversation, and I really admire her passion for connecting students from around the world. Lots of people talk about making a difference in this world, but very few people actually do something about it! Sumbal and her team are doing something about it.How did your students enjoy having a pen pal partner?
Global citizenship is more important today than ever before. We need to replace hate and misunderstanding with awareness and love. I believe that by connecting with other students in other parts of the world, we can begin to understand what makes us similar and what different challenges we all face in our little piece of the world. There are so many times when I have been surprised about how small the world really is by some connections between people. I believe this awareness and connectedness can bring about peace and human rights, intercultural understanding, citizenship education, respect for diversity and tolerance, and inclusiveness.
How can teachers encourage global leaders?
Short of traveling to other parts of the world, students need to become aware of and really understand and connect with people from other parts of the world through their classes in school such as English or Social Studies, but through getting to know people and finding friends from around the world. Being able to travel also helps and is essential in creating a true global citizen.