By Todd Martin
Special to the Daily Herald
NOLANVILLE - A cultural exchange that a Killeen teacher started 12 years ago continues to give his students firsthand insight into everyday German life and practice in the art of letter writing.
Even in this day of instant communication, Steve Cooper's fifth-graders at Cavazos Elementary School in Nolanville relish their time writing letters the old-fashioned way, an act the teacher considers a dying art.
Even more, the students enjoy receiving correspondence from their 12-year-old counterparts in a small town in northern Germany called Uelzen.
While teaching at Cedar Valley Elementary School in Killeen a dozen years ago, Cooper went online shopping for a teacher pen pal. He met, through cyberspace, Helmut Schuarte, an English teacher in level six, the equivalent of sixth grade.
Cooper has maintained contact with Schuarte, and the two continue to swap class lists every August and pair up their students for a year of exchanging letters.
A bulletin board in the fifth-grade hallway at Cavazos, where Cooper teaches now, shows examples of the students' letters, as well as a map of Europe with Germany outlined and Uelzen highlighted by a yellow arrow.
The two classes on either side of the Atlantic send single packages that contain letters to all the students in the class. About four times during the school year, students can expect a letter from overseas.
"I like writing," said fifth-grader Raymond Hollis. "I enjoy writing back to my pen pal."
Though today's fifth-graders have never known a world without computers and easy access to the Internet, some of them say it's nice to write words on a page without the need of a laptop and an Internet account.
"I like that we can write to them," Stricklin said. "We don't need a computer and the Internet."
Many of the return letters include hand-drawn cartoons or stickers.
Cooper lets his students work on letters when they finish their schoolwork, but many pen their notes at home.
"I think it's interesting we're writing people on a different continent," said Mikayla Casarez. "We're learning how life is from people in Germany."