Do you remember when having a pen pal was a thing? It was exciting – the simple act of writing letters back and forth, connecting with someone outside of your normal circle. Lucky for first graders at Memorial Elementary School in Valparaiso, they got to experience this valuable pastime, and they not only loved writing and reading the letters, but they also got to meet the faces behind who they have been writing to.
Faces of Memorial first graders lit up when their pen pals from Valparaiso High School came to visit and finally meet them Tuesday afternoon. It was the Valpo High School Freshman, JV, and Varsity Girls Basketball teams that have been corresponding with the first graders through handwritten letters at Memorial since this past October, and the players were just as excited to meet their pen pals, having loved the experience just as much as the kids.
Sarah Douglas, a sophomore at VHS on Varsity, felt nostalgic in her opportunity to connect with her pen pals and said, “It’s been awesome. It’s cool to remember what it was like to be in first grade and to learn about what they’re into.”
Although this is only the first school year that Memorial has done something like this, the amount of impact on the students from communicating with their pen pals has already sold first grade teacher, Jennifer Hoefler, on continuing this in years moving forward in partnership with her sister and VHS JV Girls Basketball Coach, Rebecca Hoefler.
Without a doubt, Jennifer said, “As long as she stays coaching, I will do this as long as possible.”
Before matching the pen pals together, sisters Jennifer and Rebecca had thrown the idea around, thinking how great it would be if they could reach out to the community and give the kids role models that were local, bringing the relationship closer to home and creating a sense of community for students.
It’s been an absolute joy in Jennifer’s classroom when response letters come in the mail. The VHS basketball players stepped it up by sending drawings with their letters or stuffing the letters with a small gift like a pencil or eraser – and the kids just can’t get enough of it.
“You remember that feeling when you were a kid and you would go downstairs on Christmas to see all the presents from Santa? That’s what it feels like. When I have that pack of letters, they freak out,” said Jennifer.
Jennifer hopes and believes that the VHS basketball players have been reminded of how big of an impact they can make from something so easy and small.
“I really like the girls being able to see the spirit of a young child. It’s so easily forgotten,” said Jennifer. “Look at how simple this is. They’re not in front of technology. They’re not playing video games. They’re literally just playing basketball and they’re having the time of their lives.”
After meeting their pen pals, the first graders led VHS girls down the hall to the gym where they learned some new basketball moves and played hoops for a while. The kids were sure to be as informative as possible walking through the halls, giving VHS girls plenty of commentary, including one boy that pointed to a folding table in the cafeteria to let his pen pal know that was the “magic” table. What would the VHS girls have done without their first-grade pen pals?
To learn more about Memorial Elementary, visit http://valparaisomes.ss10.sharpschool.com/.