Pen-pal programs still abound locally - Catholic Courier

Pen-pal programs still abound locally

With the ever-increasing popularity of e-mail, instant messaging and cell phones, one might think that letter writing has become a thing of the past.

That’s not the case in many diocesan Catholic schools, where teachers still encourage students to write letters to pen pals. They say the exercise helps students grow in a number of ways.

"It helps their letter-writing and communication skills," said Eloise Martin, fifth-grade teacher at St. Lawrence School in Greece.

This year, Martin’s students have been corresponding with fifth-graders at St. Louis School in Pittsford. Her students enjoy the creative outlet the pen-pal letters provide, and some include in their letters drawings, clip-art pictures, jokes and — with parental permission — photographs, she said.

Through these letters, Martin’s students and their pen pals have discussed sports, field trips, vacations, books, movies and things they’re learning about in school.

"It helps them reach out to another child," Martin said.

In previous years, Martin’s fifth-grade students corresponded with students at a school in Damascus, Syria, for the children of international diplomats. That was an amazing experience for the children, she said, because their pen pals were so different from them in many ways.

"The children there came to school in bulletproof cars, and they had armed guards standing by the entrances," she said.

The students in Damascus would sometimes ask their pen pals what other countries they visited during school holidays and what languages they spoke besides English, she added. The students may have been different, but they still were able to find common ground. Although her students’ current pen pals live just across town, they’re still very different from the St. Lawrence students in many ways.

"We may be far, far away in Damascus, Syria, or we may be just across the Genesee River, but we’re all unique in our own way," Martin said.

The fifth-grade pen pals from St. Lawrence and St. Louis plan to meet at the end of the school year. Such a meeting seems to be quite common, as students in Ann Zasowski’s second-grade class at St. Joseph School in Penfield plan to meet with their pen pals from Christ the King School in Irondequoit during a year-end picnic at Charlotte Beach.

Third-grade students in Jennifer Noce’s class at St. Lawrence have been corresponding with fourth-graders in Kenilworth, Ill., near Chicago. The class is taught by Noce’s sister, Kristina Vaccarella.

The third-graders love having pen pals, although they are a little disappointed they won’t be traveling to Illinois to meet them in June, Noce said with a laugh. Last year, Vaccarella taught fifth grade at a public elementary school in Brockport, and her class corresponded with Noce’s class. At the end of the school year, Noce’s students traveled to Brockport to meet their pen pals.

Noce taught her students how to use the friendly letter format, and they now correspond with their pen pals near Chicago at least once a month. For the first few months her students wrote their letters in class, she said.

"Now they’re on their own. They have a week to write back, and they choose what to write about," Noce said.

The public school in which Vaccarella teaches is very different from St. Lawrence, and Noce said it’s been good for her students to develop friendships with other children outside their own community.

Noce’s students have incorporated modern technology into their pen-pal project, she added. Her class has a Web site, and about twice a month her students leave messages to their pen pals on the site.

The third-graders in Pat Healy’s class at St. Joseph School in Auburn also have embraced the Internet as a method of communication with their pen pal. Using this technology, they correspond via e-mail with Capt. Neil Snyder, who is serving in Iraq.

"They do the writing. They actually go on the computer and compose the messages," Healy said. "When he writes back to us we print it out."

The students hang Snyder’s messages on a special bulletin board, which also is adorned with a map of Iraq and a clock that shows the time there. The students often send homemade projects to Snyder and his fellow soldiers, and they’re excited about corresponding with someone so far away, Healy said.


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