Winona State University student Jesús Cazares told his pen pal about his upcoming baseball season with the WSU Warriors. His pen pal wrote back to say how much he enjoys playing video games. Somehow, the college senior and the 8-year-old student at Madison Elementary are finding common ground through a common language: Spanish.

Cazares is a student in Mary Hudgens Henderson’s spring course for native Spanish speakers, and his pen pal is enrolled in Amanda Indra’s second-grade class in the Winona Area Public Schools’ Spanish Language Immersion Program (SLIP).

This unique collaboration started when Hudgens Henderson, assistant professor of Spanish and Bilingual Education at WSU, reached out to Indra about possible ways their students could work together.

The WSU students will communicate with one or two pen pals as a part of the partnership. Indra will work with her elementary students in small groups to read their letters and discuss ideas for responses. The classroom’s intern from Colombia will assist the young students in drafting their responses to their WSU pen pals.

Both Hudgens Henderson and Indra look forward to seeing their students grow as writers through having an authentic purpose to write and connect with other Spanish speakers outside their social circles.

Indra said the partnership is “important for building relationships and skills” for the elementary students.

For Hudgens Henderson’s students, it represents an opportunity to develop formal writing skills in Spanish.

Many native and heritage speakers of Spanish grow up speaking Spanish in the home but receive their education entirely in English, she explained. “Spanish for Native and Heritage Speakers” is intended to meet this need, helping students develop formal writing skills and an appreciation for the linguistic diversity of Spanish.

“The goal is for the WSU students to model spelling, accent use, punctuation and ‘standard’ grammar for the elementary students,” said Hudgens Henderson.

So far, the partnership has been well received on both ends.

“My experience writing with a pen pal has been great so far,” said Cazares, a Marketing/Spanish major. “I’ve never done anything like this before, and I think it is good practice for myself and the kids at Madison Elementary.”

For more information, contact the WSU Communications Office at 507-457-5024.