A pen pal relationship can be used to improve literacy, learn more about other countries and lifestyles, and to make friendships. As with any friendships in life, some remain pen pals for a short time, while others exchange letters forever. Some pen pals even arrange to meet face-to-face — such as the fourth-grade students in Carrollton Upper Elementary School teacher Whitney Meigs’ classroom.
When the Carrollton City Schools Education Foundation opened the Instructional Excellence Grant application window at the start of the school year, Meigs had a special idea to pitch. She said she was inspired by a school that had paired with another school for students with autism to become pen pals.
“I immediately thought of the Carroll County Training Center (CCTC) and Advocates for Remarkable Citizens (ARC)," said Meigs. "After speaking with a member of the CCTC board, I developed a plan for my students to become pen pals with the individuals at the training center.”
The CCTC is a place where adult citizens with physical and intellectual disabilities can go during the day to participate in activities to increase their self-help skills, skills for daily living, social skills and adaptive skills.
“My main goal was to build a classroom community that understands empathy and inclusion of everyone,” said Meigs. “With the letters, we were able to work on skills like writing complete sentences and spelling, but we were also able to learn about how simple acts can make a huge impact on the world around us. Students proved to me that they truly understood what this program was all about and how to treat all people, no matter the circumstance.”
The students in Meigs’ class were able to meet their pen pals face-to-face earlier this week. The students asked personal questions, read to them, played a game and enjoyed refreshments.
“Getting to meet our pen pals was definitely my favorite part of the whole project. I loved seeing my students interact with the clients at CCTC and how kind they were,” said Meigs. “Walking around hearing the conversations made my heart burst with pride. All students were truly engaged in the conversations with their pen pals.”
CUES Principal Stacy Lawler commended Meigs for her efforts with the project and said he is proud of the students for what they accomplished.
“Mrs. Meigs did a fantastic job with this project that encouraged our students to be inclusive, empathetic and kind to all people,” said Lawler. “I was beaming with pride as I watched our students engage with their pen pals and I know they walk away from this with knowledge and skills that they will continue to build upon in the years to come.”
One student in Meigs’ class said meeting her pen pal was an experience she will never forget.
“It was one of the best days of my life because I got to meet someone who was very kind. I felt in my heart he was like my family,” said Ava Derbecker. “I loved painting rocks with him. I couldn’t really understand some of the things he said, but he had the same kindness in his heart and tried to do his best like everyone else. Honestly, it was beautiful!”