Senior pen pals instill joy of writing

June 05, 2007 11:00 pm
Carolyn Hilger (left) sits with fifth grade pen pal Emma Stevenson, who holds up a letter she received from Stevenson. (The Daily Triplicate/Adam Madison).
Carolyn Hilger (left) sits with fifth grade pen pal Emma Stevenson, who holds up a letter she received from Stevenson. (The Daily Triplicate/Adam Madison).

By Adam Madison

Triplicate staff writer

Bill Filsinger's fifth-grade class met with their senior pen pals at Mary Peacock Elementary for the first time Tuesday after the students performed a play for the seniors.

"This is the first year we've ... (written to) fifth grade students, said Inez Castor, volunteer coordinator for the Volunteer Center of the Redwoods, of which the group the senior pen pals are a part. "Fifth grade is the perfect age, they like us."

In an informal speech to the seniors and his class, Filsinger said that he "couldn't have asked for a better way to improve the students' writing."

Teachers are "so caught up in improving our test scores, we forgot what learning is all about," he said.

Filsinger originally wasn't sure how his fifth graders would respond to the seniors. By the end of the program he said that "he couldn't have been more wrong."

Carolyn Hilger, a senior from the volunteer center, was chosen to be 11-year-old Emma Stevenson's pen pal.

Stevenson was excited to talk about the letters she had written and the replies she received from Hilger.

Stevenson said she was able to "write about things we like to do and stuff about us (the students)."

The young girl talked about how she described her family life, pets and how Hilger would reply back, writing about her family life and pets.

According to Hilger, "some of the (replies) depended on the subject matter."

Students under Filsinger's instruction would write about what they were studying in class or about fears they had. In reply, the seniors would write stories about events they had actually lived through.

"We were asked to write about a scary story, so I wrote about a bobcat," Stevenson said.

Hilger smiled, patted Stevenson on the knee and said, "so in return I told her about (my) open heart surgery."

Stevenson said that it was as if she "had another friend," in the classroom.

Stevenson said that the Pen Pals program helped with her writing, "because I had to write about things that I didn't normally have to write about."

Jordan Carpenter, sounding professional for his young age, said "I hated writing through my whole career (as a student)," when asked what he thought about the subject before the program.

Sharon McKinney was Carpenter's pen pal and also the Pen Pal program coordinator. McKinney was in charge of assigning seniors to students, saying through a permanent grin "we just matched them up on a list, but it turned out perfect."

McKinney also played the part of mail carrier between the classroom and the seniors.

Carpenter talked about how he wrote to McKinney about studying floods in class. McKinney wrote back to him, describing the hardships and damage she lived through during the 1964 floods in Del Norte County.

"It helped me figure out that it did much more damage (than he originally thought), I didn't realize how much it damaged until I heard back from Sharon (Mckinney)," Carpenter said.

McKinney found out through the letters that they both "had dogs in common and both liked baseball."

McKinney and Carpenter exchanged their fears, views on Patriotism and even poems to each other in letter form.

"I just love writing now," Carpenter said with a smile.

The seniors from the RSVP Pen Pal program, started writing letters to the students in December 2006.

The Corporation for National and Community Service began the RSVP program in 1972 to use the skills and interests of American seniors.

In 1984, RSVP moved to the Area Agency on Aging, with the Del Norte office, opened in 1991. In the same year, the Pen Pal Program was started.