Face to face

Pen Pal Pairs program strengthens bond among elementary and college students

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Pen Pals meet for the first time.

Thirty fifth-grade students from J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School in Richmond met their VCU School of Education pen pals for the first time in December, a culminating event in professor Lisa Cipolletti’s Children’s Literature service learning course.

The undergraduate course is required as part of the school’s Master of Teaching program. It is designed to give students a greater appreciation of children's literature while providing them with an opportunity to make an impact in the Richmond community.

Last semester, students taking the course began corresponding with an assigned “writing partner” from J.E.B. Stuart Elementary in early September. Week by week, they got to know each other a little better. Finally, the fifth-graders traveled with their teachers to VCU in early December to meet their writing partners in person.

Group activities that day included watching seven book trailers – similar to movie trailers, but about books – that were created by teams of VCU students in the course. All books that were featured are required reading for the fifth-graders in the spring semester.

"The more familiar students become with a university environment, the more likely they are to see it as something they can achieve.” 

– Professor Lisa Cipolletti

Writing partners then broke into smaller groups and decorated journals for the fifth-graders to take home. Each journal contained a first journal entry that the partners crafted together. After pictures were taken of each writing partner team, they decorated a frame for the picture. Professor Cipolletti delivered the framed pictures to the students at a later date.

The VCU students then led their visitors on a brief campus tour, including stops at the James Branch Cabell Library, University Student Commons and Cary Street Gym. “The more familiar students become with a university environment and make connections with actual students, the more likely they are to see it as something they can achieve,” said professor Cipolletti.

After lunch, children received a gift bag containing “The Lemonade Crime,” the second in a five-book “Lemonade War” series. They had read the first book in the series during the semester and written to their writing partner about it.

Funding for this event was provided by the Service Learning Project Small Grants Program awarded to professor Cipolletti by the Division of Community Engagement.

“Service learning, and the Pen Pal project in particular, provides students with the opportunity to apply knowledge learned in the course and connect with a student in the community,” Cipolletti said.

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Writing partners broke into smaller groups and decorated journals for the fifth-graders to take home.

Learn more about professor Cipolletti's Children's Literature service learning course (TEDU 386) on the VCU Bulletin website.