Students loving first year of Pen Pals Program

By Colin Foster

March 6, 2014

By Colin Foster

TROY — Programs like Reading Buddies and Lunch Buddies are designed to give young students in Troy City Schools positive role models.

A new program started this year with a similar goal in mind. The second grade Pen Pals Program, an idea created by four Troy High School students, began last month. Since Valentine’s Day, more than 70 high school volunteers from Troy have been writing back-and-forth with the five classes of second graders at Concord Elementary.

• “Going Global”

Morgan Brown, Kina Sekito, Annie Zhang and Abbi Flamm approached Concord teacher Myra Sanders a few months ago with an idea to make the first grade Reading Buddies Program “more global,” according to Sanders.

“They really wanted to do this at every elementary school in Troy,” Sanders explained. “I applauded and admired their energy and their excitement about it. It’s a great program, the trouble was we just needed to find the volunteers. They have taken it upon themselves, this is their mission — they want to have all of Concord and all of Forest Elementary first graders (involved) … I kind of told them that starting off with every elementary might be a little daunting at first.”

The goal was to get two schools affiliated with pen pals in the first year — but Sanders and the high schoolers are hoping the program get even bigger in the upcoming years.

“They have met with me, and they are making a promotional video, we’re having meetings … they have taken it upon themselves to make this a huge deal,” Sanders said.

Sanders said the teens are promoting pen pals through various social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

• Reading Buddies

The Reading Buddies Program was started six years ago by Sanders.

The program pairs first graders with high school students, who make the trip to Concord read with their buddies when the high school day ends.

“When these kids were in first grade, I paired up high school students to be their reading buddies,” Sanders said. “I’ve been doing this for six years. Every student in my class and the class next door had a high school student that was a reading buddy, and they came once a week after their school day ends. At 3 p.m., they would come to our school and read with our first graders every single week.”

One thing Sanders picked up on from doing reading buddies is that young students responded well to having help from high school peers. Reading Buddies is also a win-win for both parties involved as it allows juniors and seniors to get their required community service hours.

“The look on their faces when that high school kid comes in … it’s like hero, idol, worship — plus it’s a great way to teach the high school kids that year-long commitment,” Sanders said.

• Two Programs Go Hand and Hand

With the Reading Buddies Program already in place for the current school year, the group of girls from THS came up with an idea to make an impact this year.

That idea was the Pen Pals Program — which was set up to be continuation program with Reading Buddies. Brown, Sekito, Zhang and Flamm came up with the idea for pen pals as a way to interact with and impact the youth of Troy City Schools.

“Morgan Brown remembered when she was in sixth grade when they had a Pen Pal Program with veterans (at Van Cleve),” Sanders said. “She said that made such an impact on her, and at the end of the year they had a culmination where they met their pen pals. It was an emotional and wonderful experience — and they wanted to replicate that here.”

Sanders credited the group of girls for recruiting people to get involved with the program.

• The Students

Young people look up to their older peers.

So when the second graders of Concord receive letters twice a month — it’s a big deal.

“The first letter they received they were absolutely thrilled. Everyone was engaged and opening their letter and reading their letter,” Sanders said. “Not only is this a fun thing, but it’s also a great way to practice their reading skills, their writing skills.

“It’s a great way to put into practice the things we learn every day.”

“I just think it’s a positive program that connects directly to our curriculum and it’s a neat way for our kids to experience the students of the higher level and learn about what it’s going to be like in high school, learning about what they’re going through as they get ready to college and other things that they’re doing in their lives. It’s a neat program.” Concord Principal Dan Hake said.

And the young students have plenty of questions to ask their pen pals.

Here’s a look at some of the items they discuss in their letters, according to a few second graders from Mrs. Sanders class.

• Ashleigh Nosker

“I ask for pictures, I ask them if they have any siblings, or what they do, if they have a job or if they know my brother (Branden Nosker) because he’s in high school. I tell them about my family.”

• Ella Jones

“We usually talk about sports because it’s something we both like to do. We talk about things we like to do, colors we like, some games we like to play.”

• Lena Walker

“I asked her if she has any pets, but she didn’t respond yet. I told her about my two kittens and I asked her to send a picture of her, because I’m giving her a picture of me. I gave her a math question to see if she could answer it.”

• Wandie Hadebe

“We usually talk about our favorite stuff. In (my most recent letter) I asked her what’s her favorite candy. Her favorite food is chocolate … just like Mrs. Sanders. We talk about sports, favorite colors and princesses.”

“The genuinely love this program, and gave us a nice segway into the Reading Buddies Program — and they absolutely love that,” Sanders said. “I’m just truly in awe of these young women at the high school level. They came to me, they sought me out, they wanted to continue this, they wanted to expand it, they had these wonderful big dreams of things they wanted to see in terms of service in our community and young people paying it forward and helping out and making an influence on the young people.”

At the end of the year, the second grade students are expected to meet their pen pals in person.

Colin Foster may be reached at 937-440-5208 or followed on Twitter @colinfosterbg or @Troydailynews