Westmont Elementary School fifth-graders got a taste of a foreign country last week.
That taste came in the form of a papillote, a traditional French Christmas candy, included in the first letters the pupils received from the pen pals in three French schools.
"It was awesome," said Ryan Gibson, 11, of the praline-like chocolate candy. "I want more. I'm going to die if I don't have more."
The candy wasn't the only part of the first round of pen pal letters. Fifth-grade teacher Andrea Short said her pupils eagerly read their letters and examined photos from the French pupils.
"They shocked me," Short said. "I have never seen this excitement. The kids want to hurry and hurry and do their (response) letters. It is unbelievable."
The pupils are corresponding with pupils in three cities in southeastern France: Monistrol-sur-Loire, Saint-Ferreol-d'Aurore and Lichemialle.
The program began with a Westmont's alumna, Maggie Rountree, who graduated from Greenbrier High School before attending Georgia College and State University as a French major. Rountree said she didn't get enough of the European country while on a study-abroad exchange program last year, so she took advantage of an opportunity by the French Embassy to become an English teacher in a French school.
Rountree teaches English to third- through fifth-graders at a school in Monistrol-sur-Loire and persuaded teachers at schools in Lichemialle and Saint-Ferreol-d'Aurore to allow their pupils to practice their English through letters to American pupils.
"If anything, I think it is a great way for kids to be more global-minded, (to know) that there is a world outside of your own country," Rountree said before passing out pen pal letters to pupils Friday.
Rountree brought the first letters to Westmont pupils during her visit home for the holidays. She stayed to see the pupils open them, talk to them about French life and to pronounce each French pupil's name.
For the French pupils, the letters are a way to practice their French and learn more English through the response letters, which Westmont pupils will write.
"They were excited," Rountree said of her French pupils. "So thrilled, but nervous, thinking, 'My English isn't going to be good enough.' Some of the letters are grammatically incorrect, but it is something for them to practice."
Ryan, who said he loved the papillote, already has a family photo ready to send to his pen pal, Florian Bouchet, 10. He answered all of the basic questions the letter included such as his name, age, family and pets.
"It was interesting to see the similarities between the students," Short said. "(My pupils) didn't realize how similar they were."
Emily Diles, 11, got photos from her pen pal, Elsa Girand, that included her car and her brother.
"We like the same things," Emily said. "She likes horses, and I like horses."
When the pupils prepare their response letters to send to France, they have a special surprise in store for the pupils there.
"We were thinking, what can we send back that would be a good American candy," Short said. "Every student that gets an American letter will get a Blow-Pop with their letter. Every student here got a French papillote. So we're going to send back Blow-Pops."
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