The Pen Pal Project is a service learning project in my TEDU 386, Children’s Literature, course. It is a partnership with fifth grade students at Barack Obama Elementary, formerly J.E.B. Stuart Elementary, a Richmond Public School. For the fall 2017 semester, university students in my course were paired with a fifth grade student and had weekly correspondence on topics related to reading and writing. The topic for each week was determined based upon the topic in Children’s Literature and the focus of study in the fifth grade language arts class. For example, one week the fifth graders were focusing on descriptive language so they provided details about a picture for the pen pals to draw. Another week, the VCU students provided clues about a person they had read about in a biography and asked the fifth graders to complete research to answer the question, Who Am I? In addition to the weekly focus, students shared about their week and responded to each other’s questions. The semester long experience culminated with a face to face meeting in December.
One particular quote from a VCU student stood out to me, “The Project Pen Pal was a way to connect what we learned and how to change the mind of a child one page at a time. Through the journals we were able to tell the children about the books we read and draw connections to their lives.” Upon meeting the elementary students, another student wrote, “I loved the experience and was so excited to meet him. This project put it into perspective for me the importance of connection and how writing can bring people together.”
Faculty MembersMrs. Laurie Duncan, Reading Specialist, Barack Obama Elementary School
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