For young people growing up in this face-paced, technologically-driven world today, it is quite probable that using pen and paper is a very unfamiliar experience. With modern forms of communication now available, letter writing is a dying art form. Who wants to take the time to sit down, handwrite a letter, mail it, and wait days for a reply? Lacking the patience it takes to write a deeply personal letter, people settle for the much more impersonal text message, email, tweet, or Facebook comment.
However, students in Mrs. Janet Yancey’s English classes at Melbourne High School didn’t have to settle. They once again got to experience the personal touch of letter writing and the excitement of having pen pals. The project, which started out as a writing assignment last year, made a much anticipated return this year; as part of their English class, eleventh and twelfth grade students wrote letters back and forth to students at Valley View Elementary School, where Mrs. Yancey’s daughter, Jana Rucker, teaches fourth grade. As the year progressed, students at both schools couldn’t wait to get their hand-written letters and were always eager to write back. That’s why when Melbourne students traveled to Valley View Elementary on April 8th to meet their young pen pals, the excitement on both ends was electric. Mrs. Rucker’s students stood behind her, anxiously waiting to find out which one of the “big kids” standing in front of them was their pen pal. Once introduced, the endless chatter began as the kids relaxed into a conversation that could only be described as one of true friendship. The fourth graders also did a good job at keeping Melbourne students on their toes as they ran around the playground and climbed everything in sight!
As a follow up assignment of the pen pal project, Mrs. Yancey asked MHS students to reflect upon their experience with letter writing and the mentoring of young students:
“[The trip] reminded me what it was like to be a child. I think it hit me the hardest because I never got the chance to be a child. It was also amazing to be able to openly laugh and enjoy myself, even under the pressures of school and in the presence of my peers. Being in high school is hard – never getting to be a kid was hard – but watching them play and my peers interact with them makes me think that none of us want to grow up.” -Angel Reed
Every kid seeks a chance to get out of school. For many, a chance to go to Jonesboro and spend a day playing with children and going to the mall instead of school is ideal. But when I met the person I had been writing letters to for months and saw the look on his face, it became so much more. I had a mental picture of what my pen pal could look like. I was wrong; there was a group of children looking back at us with excitement to find out which one of us was their pen pal. As they called the names, there were some that had an immediate emotion change when they were told their pal did not come. This is when it occurred to me that this was about another person, not myself. Then I met my pal and exchanged letters. He started talking and asking questions. He wanted to know all about me and tell me about himself. I feel like we made a positive influence on these kids by showing interest in them and giving them attention, being at an age where we are looked up to by kids of this age. Maybe one day they will remember how someone showed interest in them and will make their own impression on someone looking up to them.” -Ty Cornelius
“Going to Valley View to meet my pen pal was a life-changing experience. I have always been around little kids and thoroughly enjoyed them, but my pen pal was a totally new experience. My first thought was this is going to be crazy because I have never met this kid, but now, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. This trip made me realize that writing is important. I learned so much about someone in just a few short letters, and I hope that my pen pal learned a lot about me. I also learned the importance of getting to know someone before making assumptions. Before the trip, I assumed I would know the basic facts about my pen pal, but after actually meeting him, I had everything mixed up (according to him!). I am so incredibly thankful for the trip to meet my pen pal, and even though we only exchanged [a few] letters and met once, I have a lifelong friend.” -Savannah Youngblood
“Kids nowadays have the opportunity to look up to whomever they want. To get to write these kids and get to know them is just a cool experience. You’ve never met the child you’re writing, and it’s just interesting to get to know someone you haven’t met. To have a kid tell me they’re gonna be like me one day is weird to think about. Those words have a chillness that comes out when I hear them because these kids don’t need to be like me. They need to be better. To tell these kids how great they can be and the things they can do is something I hope sticks with them for a long time. It means a lot to me to inspire the world’s one day generation of doctors, lawyers, etc. It was a good time. It was a meaningful time. It’s hard not to fall in love with all the happiness going around.” -Billy Savell
Mrs. Yancey, too, was very pleased with the outcome of the project. “As I read through my students’ reflections of this year’s Valley View pen pal trip, I see two worlds come together – accidentally impacting each other in ways surprising to both. I see my kids becoming role models to a bunch of plain old fourth grade students from a school two hours away, never realizing the emotions that would overtake them once these plain old fourth grade students became real and not just some letters on a page. I see even my most shy students overcome their fear because they knew these little people needed something they could provide. I see plain old fourth grade students teaching these young men and women the game of childhood again – something they’d apparently forgotten due to peer pressure, life, and yes, even education. I see that learning took place on April 8, 2016, involving a book, a test, and a classroom – the book of values, the test of courage, and the classroom of what’s really important, and that each of us possesses something someone else needs, no matter the grade level. I am extremely proud these educators call me Mrs. Yancey, their teacher.”