SEI employees and 3rd graders learn from each other through Pen Pal project

Third grade students share pizza and a few laughs with their pen pals. Photo courtesy of RSVP of Montgomery County
SEI employee Don Rittenhouse meets with his year-long pen pal for the first time. Photo courtesy of RSVP of Montgomery County

Writing is the vehicle we use to express our thoughts and ideas. The better we are at writing clearly, the better we convey our ideas and the better we are understood.

“It’s a skill we utilize every day,” shares Marion Silver, of RSVP of Montgomery County’s America Writes program. “Our program was created to help improve writing and reading skills in elementary school students, by providing a fun and interactive way to practice and improve those skills.”

RSVP created the America Writes Pen Pal project several years ago to revive the art of letter writing. Several classrooms of 3rd grade students are matched with corporate employees who engage in spirited exchanges of ideas and updates throughout the school year.

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SEI, a leading global provider of diversified financial services located in Oaks, encourages their 2,600 global employees to participate in volunteer activities helping to maintain their work-life balance. Sixty-five eager pen pals, who represent a variety of departments, including a few from their London office and one from their Canadian office, offered to participate in the pen pal project, bringing them together with the children via handwritten letters and connecting them in unseen and lasting ways.

“Not only does the project allow students to improve their penmanship, but writing about their world and reading about someone else’s helps build vocabulary and reading development, develops critical thinking and problem solving skills and helps them feel connected by sharing their stories and reading about another person’s life,” continues Silver.

According to the Institute of Educational Sciences, writing is an essential skill that benefits students for the rest of their lives. Practicing writing with engaging activities at a young age fosters confidence and a lifelong love of writing.

Literacy Advocate and Educational Expert Pam Allyn states, “Writing builds confidence in a child’s sense of herself and her voice. Writing helps kids create and strengthen their identities. Writing foster’s a child’s emotional growth and gives him coping skills for dealing with life. Writing helps students develop critical thinking skills by helping to communicate complicated ideas. Writing leads to guaranteed improvement in academic achievement. Language is the tool that brings us together. Writing gives a child a sense of herself as a person in the world and gives her a voice that she is able to use to say something that could change or influence someone’s decisions.”

The enthusiastic pen pal pairs met this week for a pizza party get-together at the school to celebrate the end of the school year and finally meet.

Students were abuzz with excitement as their pen pals entered the library.

“It’s awesome meeting someone you’ve made friends with through letters,” said one student. Another admitted, “We had so much in common.”

SEI employee Don Rittenhouse was looking forward to meeting his student.

“We were able to exchange so much more in a 15-minute face-to-face meeting. From here we can develop a better friendship,” he said. “This relationship has given me the opportunity to learn about and understand many of the issues today’s kids are facing. The world is much different from when I was their age.”

Most of the pairs discussed current events, holidays, family events, sports, pets and hobbies. By writing a personal letter, students were able to explore their voices – how they told their stories – without being graded or judged. Writing these letters required the student to draw on the incredible power of stories and words and how using those words influenced their pen pal.

Employee Charlotte Caminos enjoyed her pen pal.

“The ability of my student to communicate was outstanding,” she said. “He had enthusiasm and interest in many topics. This was a valuable experience for both the student and the adult.”

Joan Halloran reports, “There is nothing like getting a hand written letter from someone. It’s tangible and special because that person took their own time to write each word. I was looking forward to meeting my student so I could tell her in person that anything is possible!”

Teachers Ms. Broadlo, Ms. Schroding and Mr. Lewis all agreed, “The improvement in the student’s writing is dramatic. The students love this program and they get so excited when they know the letters are coming. This program gives the students a great opportunity to relate to positive role models.”

So if you think writing isn’t important – think again. Starting in elementary school, students are required to write essays as part of exam assessments. These essays are utilized as a measure by teachers to evaluate what students have learned and how well they are able to convey that understanding. Many jobs depend on clear and concise written text. Documents can be utilized as contracts, and in this case the written word is the form of communications used when there can be no doubt as to what is being stated. And, of course, writing can be therapeutic or just plain fun when letting the imagination go wild.

America Writes and America Reads are just two of many volunteer impact programs RSVP offers to the community. RSVP creates corporate employee volunteer projects designed to meet the goals of corporate partners while addressing a need within the community. To learn more about exciting volunteer opportunities, visit www.rsvpmc.org or call (610) 834-1040, ext. 123.