Texting not allowed — senior and fourth grade pen pals keep alive the old fashioned tradition of writing letters

 

Paul Calsimitto and Bill Hyde, Sr

Hadley fourth grader Paul Calsimitto and his senior pen pal, Bill Hyde, Sr

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

To the casual observer, last Wednesday looked like just another noontime at the Swampscott Senior. The lunch tables were set, the bingo spinning wheel was in place, and the alluring aroma of pizza wafted from the kitchen.

 

But at 12 o’clock sharp, the Senior Center van pulled up to the front door with a surprise. When its doors opened, out poured a throng of excited and agile Hadley fourth grade students, ready to meet their senior pen pals for the first time.

 

Since last October, Julie O’Brien’s class has corresponded with volunteer seniors from Swampscott the old fashioned way: by writing letters. “This experience was wonderful. I wish the seniors had a chance to see the look on the kids’ faces when they opened their letters. It was amazing to see the joy as they discovered new things about their new friends,” O’Brien said.

 

The intergenerational program was started 6 years ago by Marilyn Cassidy as a way to connect seniors and young children. Gina Bush, whose son William is in O’Brien’s class, chaired the program this year.

Chairperson Gina Bush serves pizza to Noah Murphy

Chairperson Gina Bush serves pizza to Noah Murphy

 

“The best part is the connection the seniors made with the class,” she said as she looked around the dining room. “It’s fun to see how well some of them are getting along and to see them meet face-to-face for the first time.”

 

The exercise is not just for fun, however; there is also a pedagogic and life skills component. The students learned to write a formal letter, how to address an envelope and how to share personal information with someone they had never met.

 

When the class received mail from the senior center, all the students would open their letters and read them at their desks. Then they would all meet “on the rug” to share something new they had learned about their new friend, O’Brien said.

Hadley fouorth grade teacher Julie O'Brien

Hadley fourth grade teacher Julie O’Brien

 

Some pen pals were uncannily well matched. Student Paul Calsimitto’s father is a fireman in Revere. His pen pal, Bill Hyde, Sr. was a Swampscott fireman for over two decades, including a period as Fire Chief. “My dad was very surprised,” Calsimitto said. “He thought it was kind of funny.”

 

For Hyde, who has been part of the program since its first year and has kept in contact with several of his former pen pals, it’s not just about getting to know a fourth grader. “It’s an opportunity to learn about their parents, their brothers, sisters. It’s almost like I have another family,” he said.

 

First time pen pal Rick Pierro, who retired from his advertising agency, Designer’s Eye, has always wanted to be a big brother, but hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Although he has lots of nieces and nephews, he has no children and loved having a pen this year. “My only complaint is it takes too long between letters,” he said with a chuckle.

Noah Murphy and Rick Pierro

Noah Murphy and Rick Pierro

 

His pen pal, Noah Murphy, really liked learning about Pierro through their correspondence. What amazed him the most? “I was surprised he wants to be a champion chef and enter in the Julia Child competition,” Murphy said as Pierro grinned.

 

After lunch, seniors and fourth graders teamed up to play four rounds of bingo, bonding even more in lessons of frustration, good sportsmanship and gracious winning.

Norma Freedman and Talia Pagliaro

Norma Freedman and Talia Pagliaro

 

Norma Freedman, who chaired the program last year, was happy to just relax this year. She enjoyed her Italian ice with her pen pal, Talia Pagliaro, who was surprised to learn Freedman’s children attended Hadley and said she couldn’t have asked for a better pen pal. “Whenever she talked about something, she put a lot of thought into it,” Pagliaro said with a big smile.

Shelley Sackett and Caden Ross

Shelley Sackett and Caden Ross

 

Last but hardly least, each pen pal received a card and envelope. They addressed the envelope to themselves and exchanged them, with the intent of keeping the correspondence going over the summer. After all, as Caden Ross enthusiastically put it, “It’s fun!”

Advertisements

Creating intergenerational bonds the old fashioned way: by writing letters

by Shelley A. Sackett

 

 

Stanley Elementary School fourth grader Drew Hause couldn’t wait to go to school last Wednesday, June 7. Since October, he and 21 other students in Mrs. Sami Lawler’s class have corresponded with pen pals from the Swampscott Senior Center and today was the day they would finally meet them face-to-face.

 

The seniors were just as excited. For many who live far away from their own grandchildren, gaining a peek through the keyhole of a nine-year-old’s life over the course of the school year was a welcome treat during the long slog of the New England winter. Meeting them in person would be icing on the cake.

 

The intergenerational program was started years ago by Marilyn Cassidy as a way to connect seniors and young school children. For the first few years it was at Hadley Elementary School, then Clarke Elementary School, and this year its home base was Stanley.

 

 

Hause and Sackett

Pen pals Drew Hause and Shelley Sackett get ready to try their luck at bingo.

 

 

“The kids loved writing. They poured their heart and soul into their letters and I learned things while I was proofreading with them that I would otherwise not have known,” Lawler said, adding, “It was pretty special.”

 

 

Mello-Lawler-Fray-Kerr-Glynn

Mrs. Ami Lawler (second from left) and fourth grade class mom chaperones at the Swampscott Senior Center pen pal lunch.

 

 

Norma Freedman, of Swampscott, chaired this year’s Senior Center pen pal program. She has had a pen pal for many years, and even wrote to one girl throughout the summer while she was away at camp.

 

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s good for the kids. They know there’s someone in the world besides their immediate family that cares for them,” she said.

 

The biggest challenge for her? “They draw a lot on the envelopes. I’m not an artist and I don’t draw, but I tried to, to keep it interesting for them too.”

 

The students arrived at the Senior Center by van (courtesy of the Senior Center) clutching handmade decorated envelopes, presents and lunch. Their senior pen pals were already there, and squeals of delight filled the lunchroom as hugs, presents and — of course — letters were exchanged.

 

Thomas Mello presented his pen pal, retired social worker Bill Foley, with a last letter in an envelope covered with colorful drawings of his pets, a guinea pig and an aquarium full of fish. Unsurprisingly, his favorite part of the pen pal project was “drawing on the cards.”

 

Mello-Foley-Jaeger-Kerr

From left: Thomas Mello, Bill Foley and Caleb Jaeger-Kerr get to know each other over lunch.

 

 

After lunch, seniors and fourth graders played four rounds of bingo, bonding even more over lessons in frustration and good sportsmanship. Freedman reminisced how her pen pal won one game last year and hugged and kissed her. “He was so happy. It was like I gave him the world,” she said with a smile.

 

Holly Mello, Thomas’s mother and one of the class chaperones, touted the scholastic benefits of teaching kids to communicate the old fashioned way — through letters. “It’s a great way for the kids to have an applied experience to practice their writing during the school year. They have grandparents, but they see and talk to them often on the phone,” she said.

 

Even though he didn’t win at bingo, Drew Hause had a big smile on his face as he hugged his pen pal goodbye and enthusiastically invited her to continue the correspondence after school lets out for the summer.

 

He offered parting words of advice to incoming Stanley fourth grade students. “When you guys are in Mrs. Lawler’s class, and she asks if you want a pen pal, you should say yes. You’ll be so happy because then you’ll meet them and it will be so much fun!”