By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
PLANTERSVILLE – Fifth-graders at Plantersville Middle School cheered on Friday after Assistant Principal VerLena Spence revealed a surprise.
Letters had arrived from their pen pals in Missouri.
Rachel Lopez’s third-period English class has been corresponding with fifth-graders at Pershing Elementary School since the fall. Friday’s missives were the second batch to come from students a the 400-student kindergarten through fifth grade school in University City, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.
Plantersville’s students have written once and have now begun working on their latest reply.
“They are excited,” Lopez said. “They ask about it often and about when they’ll receive another letter.”
The exercise was the idea of Pershing fifth-grade teacher Vida Weekly, who is Spence’s aunt. The Missouri state test requires students to write letters, and Weekly asked her niece about the possibility of their schools corresponding. Two classes at each school are participating.
“Our students are so excited,” Weekly said by phone on Friday. “It gives them a feeling of individual attention to say, ‘I got this letter.’”
Students introduced themselves in the initial letters and talked about their families and hobbies.
Lopez’s class will respond with postcards describing Mississippi and its climate and geography. That will allow her to tie science and social studies lessons into the project.
The students also compare and contrast the pen pals and their states to their own experiences. Lopez makes them follow the writing process, brainstorming, writing a draft and editing it.
“We can cover a lot of objectives from a personal letter,” she said.
The activity helps the students to see beyond their town.
“It helps just knowing there is someone out there similar to you,” Spence said. “You hate to have them secluded in a shell. There are people who learn and go to school like they do and they do some of the same things too.”
Fifth-grader William Porter, 10, was surprised to hear about the snow his pen pal sees.
“The best part is getting to talk to people from another state,” he said.
Classmate Cole Edwards asked his partner a difficult math question and was impressed to see it solved in the reply letter. He also enjoyed the pictures of Pershing that Weekly sent.
“That was neat, to see how their school is,” he said.