June 9, 2022 By Carol Britton Meyer
A pen pal exchange between South School third graders and Hingham seniors throughout the school year was so successful and rewarding that for some of the participants the project will continue through the summer and beyond and there are plans to resume the program next year.
“This is a wonderful experience for everyone. I think the seniors enjoy the spirit and joy that the children bring to their lives through writing and during our final years [in-person] Meet-and-greet,” South School third-grade teacher Shannon Gill told Hingham Anchor. She coordinates the program with Council on Aging member Karen Johnson.
“Getting to know what’s going on in their lives as eight and nine year olds and what’s important to them can be very special and also entertaining,” Gil said. The program started a few years ago and resumed after the pandemic for the 2021-2022 school year.
Gill gives Johnson the names of the students in her classroom, which she randomly matches with seniors who want to participate.
Students brainstorm ideas for writing to their pen pals and questions to motivate them—such as whether they have grandchildren, what activities they enjoy, their favorite color, sport, or childhood book, and what they enjoy doing with them Leisure.
“Some of the letters are sixth-grade quality and are written on two pages, while others are simpler, but they all do,” Johnson said. “It is very important for seniors to keep in touch with younger people. Some of their families don’t live close by, so they don’t get to see their grandchildren very often.”
Once a stack of letters is ready — written in the children’s neatest handwriting, with hand-decorated envelopes — Johnson picks them up at school and takes them to the senior center for participants to take home. Occasionally, she brings a letter to a senior when he or she is unable to pick it up.
Some of the older pen pals live in Hingham year-round, while some spend their winters in Florida. Some regularly enjoy the activities of the senior center while others are neighbors of Gill, who introduced her to the project. During the school year there are about five or six exchanges between the pen pals.
The third years attended a meeting at City Hall recently where they met their pen pals and there were smiles everywhere. “It was also a good opportunity for the students to develop communication skills with adults. We prepare in advance and the seniors are good at engaging with the children,” Gil said.
The children came and went on a school bus and enjoyed a tour of the senior center while they were there to see all that their pen pals had to offer.
The seniors and their visitors enjoyed Italian ice cream treats and decorated cut-out coats of arms with their names and drawings of some of their favorite things and activities. They then exchanged coats of arms so that each could take one home as a reminder of their close bond.
Johnson is excited that students are learning how to write real letters to people instead of texting to communicate. “This is a wonderful activity for children and seniors alike,” she said. “It’s a very worthwhile project.”
As in the past, some parents have asked for the addresses of their children’s pen pals so they can keep in touch after the school year.
South School Principal Mary Eastwood is pleased that this tradition has continued over the years. “I love the fact that this project is multi-generational and keeps alive the art of letter writing, which is so important,” she said. “I am grateful to Shannon and Karen for continuing this program over the years. [The pen pal project is] Part of our school board plan so it’s nice to see it in action.”
Third class participants include:
Fergus Chesney Douglas