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First-grade students at West Elementary meet high school pen pals

May 15 was an exciting day at West Elementary – the culmination of an ongoing project between high school students and their much-younger fellow students.

It all started when a student mentioned pen pals in class at Russellville High School, and it turned out some of the other students didn’t know what pen pals are.

Merriam-Webster defines a pen pal as “a friend made and kept through correspondence” – that is, through writing, by means of letters sent through the mail.

The tradition of having a pen pal started before computers made modern communication so fast. In honor of that history, the students participating in the project only wrote letters, by hand, over the course of several months – and did not meet in person during that time.

The 11th-grade Advanced Placement Language and Composition students of Susan DeArman and Patrice Smith at Russellville High School partnered with the first-grade students of West Elementary for this project.

They are the classes of 2020 and 2030.

“Because of a random comment from one of my students, a beautiful project began,” DeArman said. “I don’t think Patrice Burcham Smith or I can adequately convey the joy in the faces of these students as they received and wrote letters to their pen pals. They were honored to be invited to West Elementary to meet them today and enjoy play time with them. It was truly an awesome experience.

“I would like to thank first-grade teacher Tara Wilson Vincent, for making this happen.”

DeArman said the project provided an excellent learning opportunity for all the students involved – practicing letter-writing and reading skills and being positive role models for each other.

It was good for student morale, too. DeArman said the students’ faces would light up because they were so excited to read and respond. She noted some even drew pictures for each other.

Smith said May 15 was an amazing day, full of wonderful memories to be cherished for years to come. “Today, they finally met each other. They played, released butterflies, wrote with sidewalk chalk, colored, giggled and took a ton of selfies,” she said. “I am so thankful for Tara Vincent, Susan DeArman, Principal Deanna Hollimon and the other first-grade teachers who helped put all this together. Although my students loved getting and writing their letters, I don’t think they had any idea what a gift those excited squeals, hugs and smiles would be when they finally met.”

Vincent agreed. “This was my favorite day of the whole year. The excitement and squeals were definitely worth it.”

West Elementary Principal Deanna Hollimon, addressed the group in the cafeteria. She said it was a truly rewarding project that will never be forgotten.

“They had the best time today,” Smith added. “It just melted my heart.”