Third graders at Christ the King Elementary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, learned more than reading and writing skills through their pen pal project with residents at Good Samaritan Society – Sioux Falls Village.
The project gave the students a glimpse into another generation’s life stories and experiences.
The pen pal effort began when teacher Jenny Quissell was looking for ways to help her students practice reading and writing.
I choose the elderly population for a couple of reasons. The first reason primarily is so that students can connect with a different generation than kids the same age as them. My hope was that they both could learn something from each other about life, culture, traditions, etc.” – Jenny Quissell, Christ the King Elementary third grade teacher
Thirteen residents from Sioux Falls Village agreed to share their stories. At the beginning of the year, students wrote their letters in printed hand. By Christmas time, Jenny had them writing in both print and cursive.
For resident Jim Schmidt, the program has been a chance for him to relive the joy of helping a student learn. Jim is a former high school speech and English teacher from Jackson, Minnesota. He’s lived in Meadowstone Apartments for two years with his wife, Mary Lou, and their cat, Pepsi.
I like young people. I like to help them. I decided it would be kind of fun. And it has been.” – Jim Schmidt, resident at Meadowstone Apartments
Jim says that while his pen pal mostly writes about his love for fishing, Jim wanted to impart on his young friend the power of an education.
“I have always encouraged him to enjoy school — to work as hard as he can and to appreciate the value of an education, because it will be important someday,” he says.
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For other residents, the pen pal program has brought a youthful presence back into their lives.
“Children are such a blessing,” says resident Roberta Clemens. “It’s just a joy to get to know children.”
Roberta has lived in her Sioux Falls Village duplex for about five years after leaving her home in Wagner, South Dakota. She moved to be closer to family when maintaining her home became too difficult to do on her own.
Although she gets to spend time with her 5-year-old great-grandson, Roberta relishes the connection created through the pen pal program to keep her life infused with youthful enthusiasm and wonder.
She also enjoys sharing stories about her life’s history.
We need to keep sharing [our history] so they know what it was like. I think we’re forgetting a lot of things that have happened in the past. We all need to remember what we came from." – Roberta Clemens
Jenny says the residents are giving students a new standard for what cursive can look like, helping to pass down the “lost art” of cursive writing.
“We all admire one of the residents' handwriting, and the student strives to make her handwriting as nice as [the resident’s],” Jenny says.
After school ended for the year, many students have kept in touch with their pen pal, not only improving writing and reading skills, but creating friendships across generations.
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This story was written by Macie Lupica and the Good Samaritan Society Staff