MOUNT VERNON — After several months of writing to each other, second-graders in the various Knox County schools got to meet in person on Thursday at the annual Pen Pal Day sponsored by the Knox County Educational Service Center.
Converging at the First Church of the Nazarene, the 347 pen pals had their pictures taken together and enjoyed a variety of activities, such as miniature golf, campfire sing along, face painting, bean bag toss and reading a book together. They also ate lunch with their new-found friends, and enjoyed learning more about each other.
Caroline Childers, Fredericktown Elementary School, said she liked having a pen pal in Austin Peneycofe, East Knox Elementary School.
“I feel like it’s a good thing,” said Caroline. “It can be a boy or a girl, someone that you know that goes to another school. I was really excited to meet Austin.”
Austin said having a girl for a pen pal was no problem.
“We wrote about if she has a pet or brothers and sisters and stuff,” he said. “I liked being able to meet her at pen pal day and have lunch together.”
Danville second-grade teacher Linda Bratton said she supports the pen pal program because it is a practical way for the children to practice their writing skills.
“It gives them the chance to develop a friendship with another student their own age,” she said, “and to practice writing conventions and communicating in written form. There’s an added bonus because they learn about what students are doing at another school. It gives them another perspective.”
Jan Taylor, elementary consultant with the ESC, coordinates the pen pal program. She said 16 second-grade teachers and their 16 classes in Centerburg, Danville, East Knox and Fredericktown participated this year and there was 100 percent participation in Pen Pal Day.
Taylor said the pen pal program is important because, according to state academic standards, second-graders are expected to learn how to write personal letters. “Giving the pupils a reason to learn to write a letter,” Taylor said, “encourages them to write better letters. In the meantime, they also learned handwriting has to be legible. Sometimes they would get a letter they couldn’t read, so they found out they had to work on that. Hopefully, they also learned about communicating via writing.”
For next year, Taylor said, the standards have been revised, so the pupils need to learn how to communicate through e-mails instead of hard copy. Rather than refining handwriting skills, the students will be developing their keyboarding abilities.
“With the revised standards coming out,” Taylor said, “we may have to rethink the program and how to make it work — if there’s funding.”
She said it is still important for the pupils to know they will be able to meet their pen pals sometime during the school year.
“If they don’t have a reason to e-mail someone,” said Taylor, “it doesn’t make sense to them to learn how to do it.”