2011-11-17 / Schools

Pen pal program bonds high school teens and youngsters

By Sylvie Belmond


PEN PALS—Chaparral first-grader Collin Mayer listens attentively as teacher Diane McEvoy reads a letter written by one of her Calabasas high school students. The project, which involves high school freshmen, is helping the younger children develop better reading and writing skills. 
SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers PEN PALS—Chaparral first-grader Collin Mayer listens attentively as teacher Diane McEvoy reads a letter written by one of her Calabasas high school students. The project, which involves high school freshmen, is helping the younger children develop better reading and writing skills. SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers Though they’ve never met, students Jadon and Collin will learn a great deal about each other in coming months through a pen pal project that pairs first-graders at Chaparral Elementary with high school freshmen at Calabasas High.

The letter exchange program, started two years ago by teachers Susan Levy and Diane McEvoy, teaches children to communicate the old-fashioned way. It also creates special bonds and develops students’ writing skills.

“We thought that it would be a great learning experience for both groups of students and create a sense of community between the schools,” said Levy, a first-grade teacher at Chaparral Elementary in Calabasas and former librarian at CHS.

Children in Levy’s class waited in anticipation on a recent Tuesday when McEvoy, an English teacher at CHS, arrived with a batch of purple folders. The folders, holding photographs of individual first-graders and their high school pen pals, contained new letters written by McEvoy’s English honor students.

“When the children see her walking in, they’re very excited. They love getting the letters from big kids,” Levy said.

In the letters, the teenagers shared personal messages and details about their favorite Thanksgiving activities and foods.

Although the young addressees need help to read the missives now, most of them will be able to read the letters on their own before the school year ends, Levy said.

McEvoy said the weekly visits in Levy’s class are always uplifting.

“It’s so rewarding on so many levels,” she said.

Besides inspiring young children to read and write, the pen pal project allows high school kids to reminisce about books and experiences they had during early childhood.

“ The things they say and the pictures they draw are so adorable,” said CHS student Ali Hepps about the first-graders.

“Talking to them is like remembering how I was when I was in first grade. I love watching them grow up through the paper they write to us, like how their handwriting, grammar and spelling all improve,” she said.

The yearlong program will culminate in June when CHS students walk to Chaparral and meet their pen pals in person.

“I am most excited to meet them at the end of the year, even though by then it will be like we already know them,” Ali said.

CHS freshman Catie Kovelman said the pen pal project is delightful.

“It’s always exciting to see what they have to say and to write back. They draw the cutest pictures. It’s also exciting to see what they are learning and how smart they are through the letters,” Catie said.

First-graders also cherish the exchange.

“I like that you get to write to them,” said Sally Werner as she finished a Thanksgiving message and drawing for her teenage pen pal, Mina.

Jadon Zhu, 6, gleamed as he read a handwritten message composed by his pen pal, Collin.

“It has morphed into something bigger than we ever thought. It’s so positive,” said McEvoy, who will return to Chaparral next week to pick up new letters and drawings written by the firstgraders for her students.

In between letters, Levy and McEvoy’s classes continue the conversation through an online blog, which includes photos of the first-graders reading and writing letters, as well as updates from the teachers and comments from the freshmen.

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