Fifth grade students at Gobles Elementary School are finding out early this year that writing for somebody is a lot different than just doing a writing assignment for a grade, and they like the way it feels. Students have begun a new Pen Pal Letter Exchange Program with Meadow Woods Nursing Home in Bloomingdale, and the good feelings are going in both directions.
"Writing to my pen pal feels like doing a good deed," said Catherine Huston. "Every week we try to do something good for the community. Some of the things are small, like just picking up paper in the hallway, but we're learning every little bit helps."
Her classmate Madison Rose agreed about the significance of having pen pals at the nursing home. "It makes a real difference," Rose said. "We think it means a lot to the residents, and it means a lot to us. Some of them don't have many family members to visit. And some of them don't get any mail at all."
"The kids are learning that good things come to those who give good things."
The idea and connection for the project came this summer when Gobles fifth-grade teacher Karen Ryder connected with the social worker at Meadow Woods and learned about how many residents were isolated from family. She had been looking at a website called "Ripples of Kindness", and decided to work with her students this year to reach out to others with projects they made in class.
"This summer I really started paying attention to the random things people do to be kind to others, and I started doing them myself," Ryder said. "Then I thought, hmm, what would happen if I had my students do this, too. I talked to my class about it and they were instantly on board. Through my friend at church, the social worker at the nursing home, we decided to send residents weekly notes, pictures, jokes, and little pieces of writing meant to brighten their days. The kids are learning that good things come to those who give good things."
The nursing home has been thrilled to receive the notes from the students, according to administrator Melanie Norman.
"We have been impressed with the work the kids send over," she said. "The projects are adorable, and the residents have been thrilled to receive them. So many of our residents don't get mail or have family close enough to visit very often, so we see this project as a wonderful touch of community that's good both ways."
Fifth grader Ben Jackson suggests that the good both ways is more than just for residents and students. It's good both ways for academics and service.
"I see this as something that makes you take your work more seriously," he said. "We are writing to two residents, and that's a responsibility we have now."
"Right," followed Huston. "I know I'm writing to somebody real, and that person is going to see it. I want to send them something I'm proud to send, and that they are happy to receive."