CHICAGO | Teachers Kathleen and Jenna Jameson called the project "community relations."
Jenna Jameson's fourth-grade class at St. Florian and Kathleen Jameson's fourth-grade class at Jane Addams have been corresponding via letter since December. The kids finally met when Jenna Jameson's students took a CTA bus to Addams for a picnic Thursday. Addams students waited in front of their school with signs that said "Building Bridges Across Communities."
"It's really about connecting,"Addams Principal Ruth Martini said. "The kids are global now, with their phones and things, and it's good for them to reach out the old-fashioned way and connect for real."
The mother (Kathleen)/daughter (Jenna) duo opened the picnic with introductions before giving the St. Florian students a tour of Jane Addams and letting the kids mingle over a pizza lunch.
"It started out as language arts or how to write a letter and it turned out to be way more fun," Jenna Jameson said.
Despite the schools being only about 10 minutes apart, many of the students hadn't ever been to their pen pal's neighborhood. Kids from St. Florian — a private school in Hegewisch with an enrollment of 124 — were a bit shell-shocked by the two-story, 1,000-student public school on the East Side.
"They think they're in, like, a foreign country," Kathleen Jameson said. "(St. Florian) students are kind of like 'We're going to big-time land.'"
Alyssa Flores helped bridge that gap. She attended Jane Addams last year and returned as a St. Florian student to see some of her old friends, including pen pal Marisela Montano.
Flores did the public relations work, buttering up the St. Florian kids for meeting their public school counterparts. Montano kept Flores up-to-date on the goings-on at Addams.
"I told (St. Florian students) how (Addams students) looked and how they acted, basically. I told them (Addams) has great food here and they have great teachers and nice friends," Flores said. "It's really fun to come back here because I haven't seen (my old friends) in a long time."
Anissa Cuallar said she and her pen pal talked about their Cinco De Mayo plans while Evelyn Padilla and her pen pal talked about school projects. Juan Salazar wrote his letters about his favorite movies and video games.
Jim Kreger was a chaperon for St. Florian. He's been reading his daughter Lindsey's correspondence with her pen pal from the beginning.
"It's a good opportunity for her to get to meet some other kids (from a different neighborhood)," Kreger said. "They're probably not too different."
Both teachers expect to continue the program with their future classes.
"I think this is going to be a new teaching tradition," Jenna said, "A Jameson teaching tradition."