When Neff Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Stefani Patch first coordinated a pen pal exchange between her students and some of their older counterparts last school year, she had no idea that it would result in both parties improving their literacy skills.
But participating students at Westside High School were forced to bring their “A game” to the table once they saw the caliber of their younger correspondents’ letters.
“My students were blown away by the quality of writing from the younger students,” said Westside High School teacher Donna Patch (who is also Stefani’s mother). “It challenged them to be more creative and to focus on their own writing.”
The pen pal project was inspired by a book the Neff ES students read in class last year, in which a sixth-grade girl learns valuable lessons about both school and life by corresponding with a student from another country.
“This really just started as a small idea,” said Patch. “It was a way for my students to incorporate authentic writing in my classroom. But by the end of the year, 44 students had created moments of happiness for each other, all through the power of words.”
Each set of pen pals exchanged seven letters over the course of the 2013–2014 school year. The children finally met each other in person during a year-end celebration held in May.