In the News: RiverWoods Exeter Residents Helping Local Kids

As featured on the front page of the Exeter News-Letter, Friday, February 9, 2019

Pen pals: Kids, seniors connect with cursive letters

EXETER — The art of cursive writing is coming to life in fourth grade at Lincoln Street School through the magic of pen pals.

Students in teacher Hallie Estle’s class are honing their cursive writing through a pen pal program with residents of Riverwoods at Exeter. Students began by writing letters to the retirement community’s residents and last week eagerly opened their first letters back.

Brody Singlar was excited to share the discovery he made about his pen pal. “Mine’s Nancy and his,” he said, pointing his friend Cam Labarre, “is Jack. And Nancy and Jack are married.”

Cam added, “I’ve enjoyed that I can write cursive because I’m going to need it when I grow up for signatures.”

Estle got the idea for the project after seeing a story on CBS News about a class in Dallas that was participating in a similar program.

“I immediately thought how amazing it would be to create a similar experience for my students this year,” Estle said. The idea took off after she reached out to Tracy Jeffers, director of community life at Riverwoods. “We were both so passionate and excited about this opportunity that we knew we would be able to get it off the ground.”

The project was a natural for Riverwoods residents, Jeffers said.

“In general, the residents of Riverwoods are incredibly engaged in volunteering and love to volunteer in the Exeter community,” Jeffers said, adding that writing in cursive brought back a lot of memories. “I think for a lot of the residents, it was discovering the lost art of cursive.”

Students could barely contain their excitement when Estle handed out their first letters back from their pen pals. It took students some time to write their first entire letter in cursive as they’d only done short phrases or sentences before. Those letters were short introductions with details of who they were and what they enjoy doing.

As she distributed their letters, Estle reminded the students that everyone’s handwriting is different and that Riverwoods residents have practiced cursive much longer.

“When they were in school, it was something they did every day,” Estle told the students.

As Estle heard students remark that it was hard to read the cursive letters, she knew this was a great project to make a real-world connection for them.

“I have explained to the kids many times that even if they don’t write in traditional cursive script themselves that they will most likely have to read it someday,” she said. “They will also need to use their signature for the rest of their lives.”

As the morning continued, students got better at reading the scripted letters. Gavin Canty, who acknowledged cursive takes a while to learn, enjoyed his letter from his pen pal Sig. While Sig does not ski like Gavin, he told the boy he enjoys hiking, especially in Maine.

Ava Castonguay wrote to her pen pal about her dog Bubbles and said learning cursive hasn’t been easy. “You don’t lift your hand up when you go to a different letter,” she explained.

Jasmine Winham recounted what she wrote to her pen pal, Clare, age 86. “I told her I was 9 at the time, but now I’m 10 because today is my birthday,” Jasmine said, adding that learning cursive has “been exciting.”

Connor Powers wrote about how he likes soccer to his pen pal, 86-year-old Lawrence, who told Connor to call him “Lefty” for short.

Keegan Kmiec said this was her first time having a pen pal. “When I got one, I thought that it was very cool,” she said, adding she told her pen pal Polly about her life. “I love to sing a lot. I love to spend time with my grandpa at home.”

Polly, in turn, told Keegan about her grandchildren, who all went to Lincoln Street School, and that she likes to make quilts.

While Corbin Kaufman got some advice from his 97-year-old pen pal who told him he could call her “Aunt Susie.” She wrote, “one reason you need cursive is for legal or federal papers, when you do that it is for your life.”

While Corbin took in her advice, he isn’t a huge fan of cursive. “Not at all,” Corbin replied when asked how he liked learning it.

Abi Bartlett told her classmates about her pen pal Alice, “like Alice in Wonderland,” who really likes music. Abi also likes writing cursive. “It’s fancy,” Abi said.

While Lucy Toomey said cursive is mixed at this point. “My hand aches for hours and hours, but it’s still fun,” Lucy said.

Lexi Jordan agreed, “It looks a lot fancier,” she said of writing in cursive.

Mo Furbush said the project was “cool” as she read her letter from her pen pal Linda. Linda told Mo she loved to read when she went to bed at night and asked if the fourth-grader had any favorite books. “You have great cursive writing and I can’t wait for your next letter,” Linda wrote.

Brayden Leon practiced his signature as he brainstormed what he would write back to his pen pal Shirleen. “It makes your handwriting better,” Brayden explained.

Estle was overwhelmed by the letters the students received back from the Riverwoods residents.

“They were all so thoughtful and so beautifully scripted,” she said. “I knew the second I read the first letter that the kids were going to be so happy with the responses that they received.”

The responses have inspired students, including some reluctant writers, to get started on their letters back to their new pen pals.

“They are hoping to find out more about their pen pals including their ages, what they liked to do as children and even their favorite ice cream flavors,” she said.

The goal is to exchange one letter a month and possibly organize an in-person meeting between the students and their pen pals at the end of the school year.

“Just seeing the students excited about cursive and connecting with the members of the Exeter community makes this such a priceless experience for my fourth-graders,” Estle said. “I hope this is something they will remember when they are the ages of the residents and writing in cursive.”