WILMINGTON – A simple writing lesson for students at St. Ann and Jones Elementary schools became much more than that when the pen pals were able to meet for lunch and fellowship earlier this month.
Third-grade students from the Wilmington Catholic school and the Christiana public school began writing letters to each other a few months ago, and on June 5 they met at Stapler Park, a few blocks from St. Ann’s. The writing part was the brainchild of their respective teachers, but the idea of a picnic came from the students.
Dorothy Raughley, a third-grade teacher at St. Ann’s, developed the letter-writing campaign with her daughter-in-law, Sarah Raughley, who teaches the same grade at Jones. It started as a simple concept.
“During the year we were talking about what we were teaching, and we just kind of thought that the kids need a lot of work with language arts and their language development and writing skills. So it started out as a letter-writing lesson,” Dorothy said.
Jones students sent the first letters a few months ago to “a third-grader at St. Ann’s,” Sarah said. The Wilmington youngsters responded to individual students. Sarah said it was a big hit at Jones.
“When they got a letter that had their name on it, it was like Christmas morning. They were so happy; it was so cute. Just the idea that someone had written to them,” she said.
Dorothy said it was a great opportunity to teach formatting, addressing an envelope and using paragraphs, for example. But the experience of receiving a letter – on paper, which doesn’t happen too much anymore – thrilled the St. Ann’s students as well.
“They enjoyed it,” she said. “Usually, kids don’t like to write, but writing to another kid was fun. They couldn’t wait to get a letter back.”
From there, the students started asking if there was any way they could meet each other. The Raughleys worked on the logistics, finding a date and figuring out which location would be best. St. Ann’s had a half day on June 5, and the Jones Elementary parents chipped in for a bus to bring their students into Wilmington.
The weather cooperated, and the students sat in the grass for lunch. As they ate, they discussed the kinds of things new acquaintances do – favorite television shows and movies, which sports they play, where they live.
“It was really nice. I found out there’s a couple things I like that he likes, like basketball and sports,” St. Ann third-grader Thomas Murray said of the Jones student with whom he ate.
His classmate, Katherine Orth, said one of her lunch mates made her laugh. “She was really nice. I really like her.”
The children’s immediate comfort level with each other was a bit of a surprise to Sarah Raughley.
“I thought we were going to have to facilitate more. I was really impressed. And they didn’t seem to care if they got a boy or a girl,” she said.
One of Sarah’s students, Aiden Harp, said other classes should do this in the future. “It’s good to make new friends,” Aiden said.