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Intergenerational pen pals have lunch

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    Brandon Bennett, left; Allen Artz, center; and Thomas Graham were pen pals this year and had a chance to meet during Wednesday’s event. JUSTIN CARLUCCI/TIMES NEWS

Published May 18. 2019 06:03AM


Communication and cursive writing. Two things that probably need to be reinforced in 2019.

West Penn Elementary School recognized that, and has put a fun spin on crafting those skills for its fifth grade students.

On Wednesday, this year’s Intergenerational Pen Pal Program culminated with a lunch between fifth-grade students and senior citizens.

“It’s a good way to get the kids involved, especially toward the end of the year,” said fifth-grade teacher Michele Bittner. “It was a program that they used to do at the middle school with the sixth-graders. For one reason or another, the middle school couldn’t continue doing it, so I jumped on board and said ‘hey, we’ll do it.’ It’s been a fantastic project that we do.”

Bittner noted that West Penn Elementary and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program have been doing the pen pal program together for about 10 years. The students and seniors exchange roughly six letters per school year, and finally had a chance to meet each other over lunch.

“I was speaking with a lot of the pen pals that came in today, and it’s starting to become a reunion,” Bittner said. “A lot of the pen pals that were here on my first meet and greet are here today. They’re very dedicated to the program, it’s fantastic.”

Members of RSVP are from all across Schuylkill County explained Darla Troutman, volunteer resources coordinator of RSVP.

RSVP runs the program with three different school districts. All of the participants are over 55 years old. Many of them enjoy it so much that they are pen pals with students in each district.

“It has many purposes, and one is to practice writing skills,” said Troutman. “With today’s technologies, many people don’t write full sentences and paragraphs. But it does give them another perspective. You have young people and people old enough to be their grandparents, and some of them their great-grandparents. They absolutely love it. We have some pen pals who will write to students in all three schools.”

The pen pals’ identities were all essentially kept anonymous from one another. Seniors knew the students by their first names and last initials, while the students only knew the first and last initials of the seniors.

“It’s a really neat way of getting to know someone else in the community through writing,” said fifth-grade teacher Angela Faust. “It’s really neat to have them look forward to getting that letter back. It really brings a different aspect to writing. These are our senior citizens of our community and they have a different take on life.”

The pen pals enjoyed a smorgasbord of turkey, chicken fingers, mashed potatoes and salad together. They also had the chance to do some activities together and play games.

Was it awkward? Not at all.

“It felt like I knew him, I would do it again in a heartbeat,” said fifth-grade student Grant Johns. “It was nice to learn about someone new and introduce myself.”


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