Though English is a second language for the South African students, who grow up speaking Xhosa (pronounced “kosa”), they write well, motivating her students to respond with an equal degree of care, McKenzie said.
As much as her students enjoy this correspondence, it was greatly enhanced by an offer from the U.S. Consulate in Cape Town to host videoconferencing exchanges between the two schools.
Stephen Young, head of the geography department at Salem State University and a friend of McKenzie’s, got permission for her to use the university’s facilities.
The students now speak with each other for an hour and half of real time each spring, and are able to put faces and voices to the names of those who have signed their letters.
“We did that first video conference. When I tell you it was emotional ... when it got down to kids asking each other questions, it was incredible. I saw them mature in front of my eyes. They got it,” McKenzie said.
One of the Swampscott students asked what season it was in South Africa in June, and was told that winter, cold and rainy, was just beginning.
An American student replied that, in Swampscott, it gets so cold it snows.
“They were thinking we have it worse because we have snow,” McKenzie said. “But they don’t have heat” in South Africa, the American students learned from their new friends.
“We live in huts that have dirt floors,” they were told, according to McKenzie. “The floors are mud, and we get sick. Mothers can’t put their kids down.”
Along with McKenzie, the teachers who traveled to Langa on July 29 included Abby Rogers, Ann Bush, Catie Porter, Elly Mullins, Megan Bonomolo and Katie Wynne. They were joined by Wynne’s daughter Meg, a student at Swampscott High School.