Sister cities, pen pals, fast friends

Jan. 24—A new pen pal program is giving students at Odessa Collegiate Academy the opportunity to do just that by connecting them to students in worn-torn Odesa, Ukraine.

The connections began in December, and now more than 100 students, a world apart, are sharing their day-to-day experiences, learning together, developing empathy and building friendships.

OCA students in Mikel Crowder's World Geography class completed an initial information form and were matched with students from Ukraine. Now, they regularly contact their fellow students by mail or email. The program also includes classroom materials that bring the current events taking place in Ukraine to life for these ECISD kids.

"They're realizing that kids are kids no matter where we live," Crowder said in a news release. "The kids in the Ukraine have many of the same thoughts, wants, and desires that we do. The kids say their communication has become less formal and more like interacting with a friend."

Chris Mead, retired senior vice president of the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, brought the idea to the Odessa Chamber of Commerce in the fall. It was inspired and assisted by a Ukrainian-born professor of business at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Vasyl Taras. Putting American students in touch with their counterparts in Ukraine would not only inspire learning but also lift the spirits of the young people of Ukraine, who have been through so much.