By Deborah Pugh/North Mississippi Health Services
TUPELO – Anticipation almost got the best of some students from Bramlett Elementary School in Oxford and Lamar Elementary School in Meridian, but the payoff made the wait worthwhile.
A group of first-graders from each school had been pen pals since August 2012, and they got to meet each other for the first time during a recent field trip to HealthWorks!, an interactive children’s health education center in Tupelo.
“The Common Core includes a lot of writing components, and we wanted it to be a real-life experience for the students,” said Jaime Jones, whose first-grade class in Oxford corresponded all year with Lou Ann Lamar’s class in Meridian. “Their first assignment was to write an introductory letter telling their birthday, hobbies and what they do at school. We also included a photo of each child with their letter.”
The Common Core State Standards are new curriculum guidelines that 46 states, including Mississippi, have agreed to begin using by the 2014-15 school year. In addition to letter writing, Jones said the students learned much more.
“There was a lot that we could incorporate,” she said. “They got a geography lesson. Many of my students had never heard of Meridian, so we looked at a map of Mississippi.
“We could also compare and contrast what we were learning about with what they were learning about.”
Learning went beyond the classroom. Bramlett Elementary is a public school, while Lamar Elementary is private. Lamar Elementary students wear school uniforms, while Bramlett students do not.
“The children wrote about their activities, their vacations, what they got for Christmas,” Lamar said. “Through writing about these topics, the children learned that there were similarities between them, even though they go to different schools and live in different towns.
“One of the biggest lessons they learned was delayed gratification. Everything today gives immediate gratification. With letters, they learned to wait for a response.”
The two schools planned their HealthWorks! field trips together so the students could meet face-to-face.
“They have been so excited,” Jones said. “A field trip out-of-town is exciting anyway, but this just put it over the top. Meeting this way has been a great ice-breaker.”
Friendships formed quickly as students were introduced to their pen pals, if they hadn’t already spied a familiar name tag.
“And now that you’ve learned all about being healthy, you can write and encourage each other to eat right and exercise,” Tracy Williams, a High Flying Kid Motivator with HealthWorks!, told them after their “Move It!” program.
After spending the morning at HealthWorks!, the classes shared a picnic lunch at Ballard Park.
Heather Moffatt’s class at Bramlett Elementary and Linda Whitley’s class at Lamar Elementary also corresponded this year, although not as often because Moffatt was on maternity leave for part of the year.
“It was great for the students to meet, put a face with a name and get to play together,” Moffatt said. “We will continue to write each other until school gets out.”
This marks the second year that the classes have corresponded with each other. Like last year, the students can swap home addresses if they wish to keep in touch.
“They have found some connections,” Lamar said. “The letters also get the parents talking to their children about relationships. Last year we had two pen pals who discovered that their fathers had gone to Ole Miss together.”