Pembroke teacher Gregory Kinal and his daughter, Brooklyn teacher Tracy Kinal, began a pen-pal program so that their respective seventh-grade classes could get a taste of the other’s way of life.
Six years later, the program continues to thrive.
Last Friday, 40 seventh-graders from Shallow Intermediate School in Brooklyn finally met their Genesee County pen pals after corresponding with them throughout the school year.
Arriving in a bus at Pembroke Junior/Senior High School, the teachers paired up everyone for a brief meet-and-greet before enjoying special games run by the physical education department.
Their weekend activities included marching in the Stafford parade and traveling to Niagara Falls for a day of hiking and fun.
According to Gregory Kinal, who has taught at Pembroke for 40 years, the pen-pal program serves mainly as an examination of city vs. country culture, the similarities and differences between the two.
This sometimes leads to interesting revelations. One year, the Shallow students were noticeably surprised to see an area in Pembroke without sidewalks. Another year, one student asked, “How do you get a cab out here?”
The program, funded by businesses in Buffalo, Binghamton and Brooklyn, has also led to long-lasting friendships.
"Even after six years,” Kinal says, “some pen pals still keep in contact with one another.”
Both father and daughter decided a possible reversal of the program, sending the Pembroke kids to Brooklyn, would be both expensive and distracting.
"Pembroke has a lot to offer,” Gregory Kinal says, pointing out his students would eventually get the chance to go on their school trip to Washington the following year.
After playing variations of team tag, charades and musical chairs, the students spent the rest of the afternoon eating pizza and chatting.
Tracy Kinal, who has taught English-as-a-second-language for eight years, said that her class of new and former immigrants would discuss the pluses and minuses of their Pembroke experience once they returned to Brooklyn. Her father would similarly talk about the Brooklyn students with his class.
“Not everything looks like NYC,” Tracy Kinal explains.
“We live in a multi-cultural society,” Gregory Kinal says. “There’s a world outside of Genesee County.”