BUNKER HILL — A Maconaquah High School teacher and her family have been sending letters to France since 1965.
French teacher Marcet Spahr wasn’t even alive then. Her father was a minister at First Baptist Church of Los Angeles and her mother a new bride.
An elderly woman living in the area called the church to announce that her great-nephew was looking for an American penpal. He lived in France.
Spahr’s mother was a French major in college.
“She said, ‘Sure. I’ll do it,’” Spahr said.
And so she started writing to the Montel family.
Fast forward 47 years to a classroom at Maconaquah High School.
Charlotte Montel, a high school senior from France, spoke softly to Spahr’s French class.
She was discussing the differences between American and French schools.
“There is not the same atmosphere here,” Montel said. “We’re more concentrated when we work.”
When she first stepped into Maconaquah High School two weeks ago, she was shocked.
“The first day they were talking, talking, talking,” she said of the Maconaquah students.
In France, students sit quietly at their desks and listen to the teacher, she said.
Spahr invited Montel and some of her classmates to visit America after the pair had corresponded for years.
Montel, four of her classmates and two teachers traveled to Miami County for a five-day visit, which ended Wednesday.
The visitors stayed with host families from Maconaquah.
“My students are going to miss them,” Spahr said.
And she would miss them, too, she said. Especially Montel.
Spahr hadn’t seen Montel face-to-face since she took a trip to France in college to visit her family’s penpals. Montel was 2 years old.
On Tuesday, Montel and her friends walked around Spahr’s classroom. They helped students write letters to their French penpals.
Some of the visitors wrote French sentences on the chalkboard.
The day before, the French students hung out at Maconaquah’s two elementary schools, playing games with the students.
They played “Tomato, Tomato, Ketchup” — the French version of “Duck, Duck, Goose,” the students said.
“It was very funny to see,” said student Thomas Vidal. “A little girl in my group had a very good French accent. I was surprised.”
Montel said she was surprised by the cooking class she sat in on at Maconaquah.
“We did cookies and brownies,” she said.
Some of the students also sat in on a lesson about caring for babies — something the French kids had never seen in school.
Vidal enjoyed the music classes and seeing the high school band perform.
“The music class is very professional here,” he said.
In France, the class is small, and there are very few instruments, he said.
Francoise Ricoux said her students have really expanded their English vocabulary on this trip, and some have gained a lot of confidence.
“They’ve really settled down while here,” she said.
Spahr said there is already talk of some Maconaquah students taking a trip to France, but she’s not sure if that’s feasible.
“We’ll continue writing to them,” she said.
• Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, may be reached at 765-454-8585 or email@example.com