School Climate & Safety

Pen Pal Effort With Muslim Children Overseas Takes Off

By Lisa Fine — December 12, 2001 3 min read

The 6th graders at a New York City elementary school, children who had a firsthand view of the dust and smoke rising from the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, have been talking in class about questions they have for their counterparts in Muslim nations.

Find out more about the Friendship Through Education Initiative.

Read more about America’s Fund for Afghan Children.

The pupils at Mott Hall Elementary School in Harlem wonder whether their overseas peers might hate them just because they are American. Others want to know how the daily lives of students in the Islamic world differ from their own.

Now, to find out the answers, all they have to do is ask their electronic pen pals in Egypt.

About 100 members of the 6th grade at Mott Hall are e-mailing youngsters at two schools in Cairo through President Bush’s Friendship Through Education initiative, which connects American students with students in predominantly Muslim countries. The program is part of a campaign by the Bush administration to hammer home its oft-stated point that the U.S.- led war on terrorism, launched in response to the September attacks in this country, is not a war with Muslims or the people of Afghanistan.

Friendship Through Education program coordinators say the e-mails allow the students to get to know one another as individuals and replace stereotypes with nuance.

“Before we start talking, I would like to say I have no grudge against you for the incident on September 11,” wrote one of the New York 6th graders to a student at the Nefertari Language School in Cairo. “One question I want to ask you is do you hold a grudge against me? I don’t want to bring this up anymore but just in case you hold a grudge, then we can talk it over and maybe help you through it.”

This introduction came from that Cairo school: “I am Amr from Egypt. ... I want to change the ideas of many people who think that Arabs and Muslims are terrorists,” the student wrote. “I think that’s all for now and I hope to hear from you very soon.”

Teachers and students are coming up with other projects for the students involved in Friendship Through Education. Some students are putting together Web pages to build links with their partner schools; others are making “friendship quilts” to exchange with the overseas schools. Program coordinators are even trying to set up online chess matches.

Marc Briller, a coordinator at Mott Hall Elementary School, said the 6th graders there would be preparing a package of descriptions and diagrams of New York City street games, like stickball, to send to their Egyptian pen pals. The New York students hope the Egyptian students, in return, will send an explanation of games they like to play, Mr. Briller said.

Rising Interest

Since the Friendship Through Education program was announced on Oct. 25, American schools have shown increasing interest in participating, organizers say. The program is being run by a consortium of international organizations that are working with the White House and the U.S. Department of Education. At first, primarily schools in the areas most directly affected by the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks signed up. Now, about 350 schools around the country are in the process of establishing relationships with corresponding schools overseas.

Meanwhile, interest in America’s Fund for Afghan Children, another administration goodwill initiative that enlists U.S. students, has also held steady in recent weeks.

President Bush on Oct. 12 asked American children to each stuff a dollar in an envelope and send it to Washington to augment taxpayer-financed relief aid to Afghanistan. Donations had reached $1.53 million as of Dec. 4. So far, the Red Cross has processed 242,000 letters to the fund. That number has not increased in several weeks, however, because of mail holdups caused by anthrax contamination at the White House’s off-site postal facility. (“Relief Donations Languish at Contaminated Facility,” Nov. 14, 2001.)

In addition to the mailed donations, the Red Cross has collected $47,727 through online donations, and $14,000 from Coinstar machines.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the December 12, 2001 edition of Education Week as Pen Pal Effort With Muslim Children Overseas Takes Off


Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Embracing Student Engagement: The Pathway to Post-Pandemic Learning
As schools emerge from remote learning, educators are understandably worried about content and skills that students would otherwise have learned under normal circumstances. This raises the very real possibility that children will face endless hours
Content provided by Newsela

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Spotlight Spotlight on Safe Reopening
In this Spotlight, review how your district can strategically apply its funding, and how to help students safely bounce back, plus more.

School Climate & Safety Interactive Which Districts Have Cut School Policing Programs?
Which districts have taken steps to reduce their school policing programs or eliminate SRO positions? And what do those districts' demographics look like? Find out with Education Week's new interactive database.
A police officer walks down a hall inside a school
Collage by Vanessa Solis/Education Week (images: Michael Blann/Digital/Vision; Kristen Prahl/iStock/Getty Images Plus )
School Climate & Safety These Districts Defunded Their School Police. What Happened Next?
Six profiles of districts illustrate the tensions, successes, and concerns that have accompanied the changes they've made to their school police programs over the last year.
Deering High School in Portland, Maine, one of two schools to have their SROs removed.
Deering High School in Portland, Maine, one of two schools to have their SROs removed.
Ryan David Brown for Education Week
School Climate & Safety Defunded, Removed, and Put in Check: School Police a Year After George Floyd
Education Week has identified 40 school districts that defunded their police after last summer's Black Lives Matter protests.
Police officer outside of a school
Collage by Vanessa Solis/Education Week (image: Bastiaan Slabbers/iStock)