School news

Pen Pals Turned Real Pals: Second Graders Develop Core Characteristics



For the past year, second graders from two elementary schools within the Spring Branch Independent School District (SBISD) have engaged in a monthly pen pal exchange.

This week, Valley Oaks Elementary (VOE) hosted their counterparts from Shadow Oaks Elementary (SOE), providing an opportunity for the students to meet face-to-face, reflect on their writing, enjoy refreshments and play together on the playground.

Vivian, a student from VOE, and her pen pal Nathan from SOE, expressed surprise upon meeting, realizing their preconceptions about each other's appearances didn't match reality.

“Sometimes, you can guess what someone will look like based on their name,” Nathan remarked. “But she doesn't look like what I expected.”

Jonah and Eda recalled the humorous exchanges they shared through their letters, highlighting the joy and camaraderie fostered by the pen pal initiative.

The idea of pairing second graders as pen pals first emerged during a district counselors’ meeting last autumn, championed by Aurelia Guzman of Shadow Oaks Elementary (SOE) and Roxanna Horak of Valley Oaks Elementary(VOE). Recognizing its potential to cultivate meaningful connections and enhance handwriting skills, both schools' principals wholeheartedly embraced the idea.

“It was fun writing back and forth,” said Sophia from SOE. “I felt happy when I got a letter from Max.” Max liked receiving letters, too. “I got excited because I like to read,” he said.

The pen pals met and celebrated together

In addition to fostering empathy and communication skills, the pen pal program served as a creative way for students to develop essential traits identified by SBISD as key for T-2-4 Readiness, particularly communication and collaboration. This aligns with the district's vision of T-2-4 for Every Child, emphasizing the importance of equipping students with academic knowledge and key Core Characteristics.

During the pen pal reveal party, second-grade teachers facilitated ice-breaking activities and guided students in exchanging final letters and completing joint statements. The event provided opportunities for the students to further cement their friendships through shared experiences and interactions.

“Our favorite thing about being pen pals is…” Bubbles, sidewalk chalk, fun on the playground together and sharing refreshments were additional ways the students cemented their pen pal friendships on the day of their meet up.

Reflecting on the broader impact, counselor Horak emphasized the importance of exposing students to diverse perspectives beyond their immediate surroundings.

“In the big picture, it was so amazing to get the kids together,” said counselor Horak. “It was great from them to get outside of their bubbles. They don’t realize that there are other kids at different schools leading different lives.”

Counselor Guzman expressed hope that the initiative would inspire other schools to adopt similar programs in the future, underscoring its potential to create lasting connections and enrich students' educational experiences.

“We hope we have started something new,” said counselor Guzman, speaking about the pen pal project. “Maybe other schools will try this next year.”



Here are additional comments from some of the pen pal duos:

Lindsay: “It was fun writing to each other. I told my mom, “Look, I got a new pen pal!’”

William: “I liked it because every time I got to write, it felt like I had another person with me.”

Olivia: “It was really cool to write to my pen pal. I learned that Jeremiah’s favorite food is pizza.”
Jeremiah: “The hardest part of writing was spelling. I had to write a lot. One time I drew a picture of a sun.”

(On the day of their in-person meeting, these two discovered that they were each wearing almost the exact same tennis shoes!)

Cameron: “It was cool that we got to meet up and be friends.”
Jason: “It was fun writing letters, and I was happy when I got one.”

Eleanor: “I was kind of lonely until I got a pen pal.”

Grayson: “It is nice to meet someone new once in a while.”