St. Marys Journal Argus
What could Grade 3-4 classmates at A.J. Baker Public School in the village of Kintore possibly have in common with Grade 10 students from a much more varied set of ethnic backgrounds, from an inner-city London high school more than 10 times the smaller elementary school’s size?
Well, for one, they’re all eager to learn about what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes.
In a unique take on the age-old “pen pal” approach, A.J. Baker teacher Heather MacPhail joined with her friend and Beal Secondary School teacher Rebekkah Wilkin over the past few months to bring together the two disparate groups of students within the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB). For their efforts, they and their students were recently featured on the front page of the TVDSB’s website, as well as in a radio interview on Oxford County’s HeartFM.
After coming up with the idea as a way of enhancing literacy skills, the pair of teachers applied for and received funding through a program called “Learn It Forward.” From MacPhail’s perspective as a Grade 3-4 teacher, she encouraged her students to build their story-writing and letter-writing by composing hand-written letters to their city-dwelling, older pen pals.
It was then up to Wilkin to convince the high school students to play their role in the relationship. But, according to the HeartFM interview conducted by MacPhail last week, that turned out to be a lot less of a challenge than you might expect.
“There was a student who didn’t always come to class and when he found out about this program and Mrs. Wilkin said, ‘you know, if you write to somebody, you’re going to have to be responsible for writing them back when they write you a letter’,” the A.J. Baker teacher told the radio station. “And he started coming to class more frequently because of this project.”
Speaking with the Journal Argus last week, MacPhail described the level of excitement in her Kintore classroom when the return envelopes arrived from H.P. Beal.
“I thought we might have some quiet time reading over the responses but, instead, it was like Christmas time when the letters came. And I think partly that was because they were all hand-written letters, which you don’t see all that often any more.”
Over the ensuing weeks, more communication was exchanged between the two groups of students. And the official version of the program culminated recently when the elementary students boarded a school bus and headed into the city to meet with the urban, teenaged pen pals. Once at the high school — the second largest school in the entire TVDSB — they met their pen pals in person, worked together on some literacy exercises, and shared a pizza party.
“It was a great day. It was a great program,” MacPhail explained. “We’ve got kids writing. And we’ve got kids making buddies that they never would have met otherwise.”