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Back to Basics: Letter Writing at the Aguilar Adult Learning Center

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At the Aguilar Adult Learning Center, ESOL students are getting to know other students from around the city! They are pen pals with students in one ESOL evening class at CUNY's City Tech Adult Learning Center in Brooklyn.

Our ESOL students introduced themselves to Jay Klokker's students at City Tech in short handwritten letters and within a few days, City Tech's students had their replies out in the mail back to Aguilar!

More than 20 pairs of pen pals look forward to their "mail," which is hand delivered by their teachers each week. Some topics discussed include: stories and poems which both classes heard performed on stage at Symphony Space in January, the struggles of learning a new language, the challenges of living in New York, the Oscar winning movies, the latest soccer game in Barcelona, beautiful women of Brazil, the first snowstorm, the drudgery of a boring job, Helen Keller's biography, bringing up children, and cooking Mexican food.

In one correspondence, a young Japanese student writes to a Mexican mother of two:

"Today we read "The Red Fox Fur Coat" in our class together. When I read it at first, I was impressed by the expression. I thought this story's theme is human desire and desire is emphasized by the vivid red colors: red fur, blood, lips, scarlet nails, and roast beef. However I was not interested in the whole story at first because if wasn't clear for me. Later, I changed my mind. I understood what was going on and then I enjoyed it more…"

One French IT salesman writes to a Mexican college-bound student:

"You write that you want to go to college, but what do you want to learn? Do you have a dream? Do you want to travel? Do you want to meet someone?"

One 28-year-old Nicaraguan woman writes about Lucille Clifton's "Homage to My Hips" in her letter to her Dominican pen pal:

"I liked this poem because I am interested in issues related to the female body, gender roles and women's rights. I learned that Lucille Clifton wrote many poems related to these topics and I plan to read more about her. Are you interested in these?"

And the response said,

"…The actor's performances were excellent, especially Sonia Monzano's performance. I agree with you when you say that the stories and poems were full of emotion. I will try to find out more about Lucille Clifton, too…"

Making new friends in NYC is always a challenge for our students, so having pen pals seemed to be a good way to begin a friendship, and it helps students develop their writing skills as well! Discussing the published stories and poems which students heard at Symphony Space was a way to get the project off the ground. But as time went on, the topics became more personal:

"Can we get together on Valentines' Day? Your letter encouraged me to study harder…Here's my email address! How are your kids doing in school? Follow my advice: make your relationship last!"

On March 20, the Aguilar students are crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to visit their new Brooklyn friends — and adding a tour of the Brooklyn waterfront along the way.

What better way to put their newly acquired language skills to good use than to write letters and make new friends doing it?

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