Fifth-grade pen pals meet at Super Huddle

For the past four months, about 250 fifth-graders from eight New Orleans schools have been corresponding with each other as pen pals, part of the National Football League’s “One World: Connecting Communities, Cultures, and Classrooms,” program.

On Monday, the children met at a culminating “Super Huddle” event at the Audubon Zoo.

Paired with their pen pals, the students rotated through workshops. The workshops included learning to dance and play Samba music, creating charm necklaces while learning about the importance of Louisiana’s wetlands, picking up some Irish dance moves and exploring the world of reptiles.

Several members of the New Orleans Saints joined the students during the workshops, dancing and making necklaces.

Anna Isaacson, director of community affairs for the NFL, said the intent of the program is to pair up students from different geographical, socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds and break down cultural barriers, showing the students that they are more similar than they are different.

The students came from Lusher Charter School, Hynes School, Arden Cahill Academy, Esperanza Charter School, Alice Harte School, Langston Hughes Academy, Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary and St. Catherine of Siena School.

The NFL started the One World program after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks through a partnership with the educational organization Scholastic. Lessons of tolerance and building community were incorporated into classrooms nationwide, encouraging young people to “respect one another, value diversity and take positive actions to build stronger, more inclusive communities,” according to the NFL.

For the past six years, the NFL has picked five of the most valuable lessons from its extended curriculum and incorporated them into a shortened lesson plan for the communities hosting the Super Bowl. New Orleans is the host city for Super Bowl XLVII.

The lessons and workshops are specifically geared toward each unique community, drawing in elements of the cultures that unify the children rather than separate them, Isaacson said.

Beginning in October, the fifth-graders learned a different lesson each month on subjects including stereotyping, building community and consensus building.

To teach a lesson centered on respecting the opinions and values of others, Isaacson said the students were divided into small groups and told to come up with an idea for an art project that best represented New Orleans. They met as a class, listened to each other, compromised and agreed on a single project.

A lesson on stereotyping told the story of a girl who was new to a school and did not feel like she fit in, and asked students how they could help her feel more welcome. After each month’s lesson, the students wrote a letter to their pen pal.

Isaacson said the children were excited to meet each other on Monday and asked when the get-together would be. She said she hopes the newfound friends will stay in touch.