As we approach the middle of September we are finishing up the matching of scientists with prescientists, and are ecstatic to enter our fourth year with this program!
As this my first year on board outside the classroom, I find myself reflecting about the impact this program had for the students I taught, and the amazing potential we have to change lives in the future. Last year I was amazed by the generosity of our scientist pen pals. I found myself just as surprised as the students when they ripped open their envelopes to reveal handwritten notes, pictures, drawings, maps, stickers, pens, stamps, etc. from all over the world! The eager anticipation that filled our classroom as letters were being passed out and the excitement that burst the moment I said “Open it!” was a magical experience in room 216.
The room instantly filled with smiles, intense reading, science and geography discussions, and show and tell at all once, followed by quiet, inquisitive students frantically writing responses and attempting to address envelopes correctly.
I must say I already miss feeling, in real time, the enthusiasm my students had toward their scientist pen pals. Students would ask me the day after we sent their response if their pen pal had responded yet! They would ask me to print pictures, give them colored pencils or if they could take their note home to finish in order to ensure their response was an appropriate reciprocation of what they received. And then there were some students who would or could barely write a response, but even this would be more than their average daily work. We must remember that all children have different needs, abilities, and talents.
Pen pal letters sparked conversations about new places kids aspired to go to, careers they didn’t know existed, similar interests they shared with their pen pal, questions about how the world works, and connections between our curriculum and their pen pal’s job. This experience provided my students with a chance to build a meaningful relationship with a positive role model around relevant topics in a way that catered to each individual student.
This year we have the chance to create this experience all over again, expanding new minds to the real life application of science class! We have the opportunity to inspire young people to define success for themselves, and give them places to want to go explore!
If you have chosen to volunteer your time as a pen pal, I promise you won’t be disappointed. I challenge you to find commonalities with your pen pal, ask them questions you wish someone would have planted in your head as a middle schooler, and lift them up in whatever way you can through a letter. I challenge you to explain your research in a way a fifth grader could understand it, and to outline, for your pen pal, the steps you took to get where you are today. You can look forward to more pictures and posts from this year’s teachers in future months…let’s get started!!