Pen pals may seem like a program that would go by the wayside with the prevalence of texting, e-mailing, and Facetiming, but perhaps that’s all the more reason why it is still alive and well at City Academy. 

Each year, our scholars in third through sixth grade are matched with a member of our community – donors, volunteers, board members, alumni, and other friends of City Academy. The pen pal relationship starts with a two-paragraph letter from the student, introducing themself and then asking questions of their new friend. 

Fifth Grade Humanities Teacher Shalawn Fennoy said that pen pal letters give students an avenue to practice writing to an authentic audience, focusing on writing conventions and structure to convey purpose and meaning. Students also learn how to properly address envelopes. Another benefit of the program, Fennoy said, is that it allows our community to stay connected to the school and hear directly from the students about the amazing things happening in the classrooms. 

“Though we have many ways of communicating, there is nothing like something tangible as a letter from your pal,” Fennoy said. “It gives students opportunities to reread letters and reflect on conversations. Pen pal writing gives students a chance to break down the walls and expose students to others who serve within our school community in some capacity.”

Whenever possible, pen pals are matched with the same student from year-to-year so they can continue their relationship. The pals are sometimes even able to meet each other on campus at Buddy Morning, the Annual Luncheon, or Graduation. One such pen pal is Ginger Smith, who serves as City Academy’s Board of Trustees. Ginger has been a pen pal for the past two years and enjoyed interacting with a third-grader named Izzy. 

“I think it’s fun to have a lens into what it’s like being a third-grader in today’s world,” Smith said. “I learned about books she was reading, because I love to read. I learned about video games and she told me all about Minecraft. We talked about our dogs and all the good things they do and bad things they do.” 

Smith said that despite all the advances in technology, it was still important for students to learn how to handwrite a letter or thank you note as those skills are universal. 

“I remember when Izzy was learning cursive and so for a six-month period all the correspondence was in cursive and she was getting better over time,” Smith said. “I save all the old ones too because I just think they’re fun. I actually have them on my bulletin board in the office.”

Fennoy indicated that as beneficial as the practice of writing the letters is for her students, it’s the receiving of letters that truly makes the program special. 

“It has been exciting to see my students come alive as they anticipate their letter from their pen pal,” said Fennoy. “Days before month end, students are inquiring about their letters. Part of this excitement is due to the fact that kids feel important when they receive mail. It is thrilling to see the room filled with students’ faces sinking into their letters and occasionally, you hear a giggle or one of my students reading a line or two aloud to share the excitement with their peers.”

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