In the summer before the 2023-24 school year, Shadow Oaks Elementary Counselor Aurelia Guzman was brainstorming how to incorporate communication skills, penmanship and SBISD’s Core Characteristics of a T-2-4 Ready Graduate into one activity. In tandem with Valley Oaks Elementary Counselor Roxana Horak, the two decided to introduce Pen Pals to their second-grade classes.
“Valley Oaks is our sister school and they have been nothing short of amazing to our campus. I thought teaming up to be Pen Pals would be a fantastic opportunity to collaborate using SBISD’s T-2-4 Core Characteristics,” said Ms. Guzman. “In the process of sending and receiving mail, our students are gaining the opportunity to improve their writing skills while making positive connections.”
Each time students write letters, they are encouraged to incorporate an SBISD Core Characteristic of a T-2-4 Ready Graduate. For example, some of the Valley Oaks students wrote how they stay Academically Prepared and some of the Shadow Oaks students detailed why they believe it’s important to remain Empathetic and Self-aware. From getting good sleep to sharing their favorite snacks with classmates, students showcased a great combination of critical thinking and thoughtful creativity.
When Shadow Oaks student Sunny received her letter, she was thrilled to learn that her Pen Pal, Charlotte at Valley Oaks, was also 7 years old. Some students, like Valley Oaks’ Maverick, even drew mini portraits of themselves and their Pen Pal.
Valley Oaks second grade teacher Brittany Specht was thrilled to receive another round of mail from Shadow Oaks just before the Thanksgiving break. Students were eager to read their letters, shouting names of their Pen Pals and quickly showing off their letters to one another.
Charlotte, Sunny’s Pen Pal, was over the moon to see that her letter included another picture.
“Drawing pictures back and forth is one of my favorite parts of the letters! I like to be creative,” said Charlotte. “I think me and my classmates learn a lot about communicating our thoughts and feelings by writing these letters.”
Charlotte also mentioned that she hopes Sunny enjoys receiving her letters just as much as she does.
“Our students spend so much time in their school communities playing with and getting to know the kiddos at their own schools, that it's truly heartwarming to see them make connections with kiddos outside of that school bubble,” said Ms. Horak. It's neat to see how excited they get when they make a connection with another student through their writing. A student who may be the same age, in the same grade, and who may be interested in the same things as they are, but who lives a few miles down the road and attends a different school - a kiddo who they would otherwise never communicate with! It's really cool to see our Eagles connect with and learn from other students in our community."
Both Ms. Horak and Ms. Specht emphasize how students conversing with their Pen Pals allows them to learn about other students’ interests, experiences, family, friends and even their academic journeys. Ms. Horak and Ms. Specht note how every time the students receive letters, they are amazed at the immediate joy that fills the classroom.
“In a world where technology is so big, the fact that they’re writing letters and mailing them to another school is such a novelty to these students,” said Ms. Specht.
Ms. Guzman, Ms. Horak, Ms. Specht, Ms. Pruett and Ms. Almaguer hope they can be an example should other schools want to start a Pen Pal program. From how they prepare for school and what they are learning in classes, to comparing their favorite activities and drawing pictures, students are learning valuable lessons alongside their Pen Pals.
View a photo gallery for this story here.