Quaker Valley students send letters to Kazakhstan

Tuesday, November 26, 2019 | 6:01 AM


Personalized letters from Quaker Valley High School students will serve as a teaching tool for students learning English in Kazakhstan.

The entire ninth-grade class — roughly 150 students — wrote letters over the last month to students in the rural central Asian nation sharing details about their lives, school and asking questions to the the Kazakh students.

Each letter was placed inside of a donated children’s book that was then transported to Kazakhstan in a suitcase carried by English teacher Kelly Panucci’s husband, Mario.

“I hope they feel like people in America care about them and want them to be able to learn English better,” said Quaker Valley freshman Riley Holles, 14.

The idea for the special pen pal partnership and corresponding book donation came from the Panuccis.

Mario, a senior project manager with Chevron who works full-time in Kazakhstan, visits local schools as a goodwill ambassador for the company.

The native Kazakh children sing songs like “Row Row Row Your Boat” for their American visitors, as they learn English.

The school Mario Panucci visits is isolated and the children don’t have much, Kelly Panucci said.

Teachers at the Kazakh school asked Mario if on his next visit, he could bring magazines, even from the airplane, to help their students learn English.

When he returned home, Mario asked his wife to purchase books, instead, to give to the children.

As a teacher at Quaker Valley High School, Kelly Panucci saw this as a perfect project for her students. They could donate books, learn about Kazakhstan and write letters to the students at the school.

“This would be much more meaningful,” Kelly Panucci said.

She worked with fellow ninth-grade English teacher Tamra Rosa to oversee the project. They used it as a teaching tool, helping their students learn to write a letter.

The students stepped up and brought in more books than were needed. The Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley also donated books.

The teachers also used the project as a geography lesson, talking with the students about Kazakhstan.

“It was a neat learning experience for them to learn about the other culture,” Kelly Panucci said.

Mario Panucci put all of the books in his luggage. It takes him roughly two days to get to his destination, part of which includes walking, so the books had to be in roller bags.

The plan is for students in Kazakhstan to write back.

Students at Quaker Valley enjoyed learning about another part of the world.

Riley donated a copy of “Mouse Paint” for the children in Kazakhstan. It was one of her favorite books as a child.

In her letter, she shared details about her life in America and can’t wait to hear back from her new pen pal.

“I’m really excited to see what they write,” she said.