Senior citizens, youths enjoy lives as pen pals
The halls of Tonganoxie Elementary School were filled with cheer Friday afternoon as second-graders and their senior citizen pen pals met face to face.
For the second year in a row, students in Gail Kiefer's and Sarah Kettler's classes ended the year by inviting their pen pals to a classroom tea.
Sarah Kettler said students had been writing to their pen pals since Christmas.
"We write once a month," Kettler said.
The students use their best handwriting and write good letters, she said. They especially enjoy receiving letters from their pen pals.
"Their letters are so good," Kettler said. "Some of them have lived here forever and they tell the child about the changes in the town, what school used to be like."
The children are amazed at the stories about what school used to be like, Kettler said. She said they especially liked the stories about riding to school in a horse-drawn buggy and telling how the teacher would get to school first and light the stove, and of course, hearing about how schools used to have outhouses.
Because most of the letters to the students are written in cursive, and second-graders can't read cursive writing, Kettler says she reads the letters to the class.
The teachers hear positive response about the project, Kettler said.
"We took pictures of the kids and mailed them to their pen pals, and some of them wrote and said they'd put the pictures on their refrigerators," Kettler said. "It's so neat for the seniors, as well as for the kids."
Jim Conway said he had never met his young pen pal, Brandon Cruqui, before, but said he felt he knew him through the four letters they'd exchanged.
"He likes to do a lot of different things," Conway said. "But mostly, he likes to ride dirt bikes."
Likewise, John Grasso came to school to meet his young pen pal, Trevor Edmunds.
"I learned through our letters that he lives in Tonganoxie, he likes school and sometimes he walks to school," Grasso said.
Tucker Hollingsworth wound up with two pen pals Nadine Holton and Marie Black. Black had started out being the pen pal of a girl who moved away, so Tucker wrote the letter inviting her to attend the class tea.
This worked out well, as Holton was unable to attend.
When Black asked Tucker about school, he said his favorite subject was recess.
"You like reading, too, don't you," Black said.
"Yeah," Tucker replied.
"That's real important," she told him.
Jeffrey Sims, who invited Harriet Hancock to the class tea, said he had learned that she used to work in the library. Hancock, in turn, said she'd learned that Jeffrey likes school, that he plays with his cousins a lot and that he's recently lost his front tooth.
Kettler said the pen pal project was started a year and a half ago by Chris Baska and Gail Kiefer. This year, Baska is teaching first grade and didn't participate in the pen pal project. However, Kettler said that next year, when Baska again teaches second grade, all three second grades will participate. And, likely they will outgrow the music room, which was filled to capacity Friday.
Kettler agreed that attendance was good.
"We write to 50 seniors, and just five children didn't have pals that day."