Handwritten letters connect third-grade pen pals

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Dubois Elementary School third-grader Kaylei Carie, left, and her pen pal, Magdalena Juares, a third-grader at Huntingburg Elementary, chatted as they walked together during recess at Huntingburg Elementary School on Monday. After writing letters to one another all year long, third-graders from the two schools met for the first time.


HUNTINGBURG — Third-graders at Huntingburg Elementary and Dubois Elementary shared a special, written bond this year.

In the age of technology, it’s easier and faster to send an email or a text message than a handwritten letter. But for the past school year, kids at the two Dubois County schools went old-school and formed cross-county friendships by communicating exclusively through mail.

Monday, the pen pals met in person for the first time at Huntingburg Elementary and celebrated their fellowship by playing on the playground together, getting each other’s autographs, and just talking with the person they’ve communicated with throughout the year.

When asked what their favorite part of the experience was, the kids resoundingly said they liked meeting their writing buddy more than any other part.

“It was kind of cool to see who you had,” said Kinley Case, a Dubois Elementary student. “(Before), all you did was write and you didn’t know who she was.”

Huntingburg Elementary School third-grader Ben Ragan laughed as he read a letter from his Dubois Elementary School pen pal, Jake Kluesner, at Huntingburg Elementary School on Monday.

The project was launched three years ago by Huntingburg Elementary teacher Christina Qualkenbush and Dubois Elementary teacher Katie Gogel. Their third-grade classrooms participated again this year, as did third-graders in Yvonne Zink’s Huntingburg class and Jennifer Ashby’s Dubois class.

Qualkenbush said kids today don’t really know how to write letters because of all the electronic methods of communication that ditch form in favor of efficiency. Some kids didn’t even realize they could send physical messages through the mail. But after they started communicating with their pen pals, they were excited for each delivery.

Teachers believe the exercise is a way to open the kids up to another area community and discuss differences in the schools.

“It’s just a good way to see how things are different,” Zink said, explaining that the kids don’t realize there’s a world outside of Huntingburg. “It’s kind of nice for them to see that and to experience some different people.”

Qualkenbush also hopes that is one of the kids’ biggest takeaways.

Third-graders from Huntingburg and Dubois elementaries collected autographs from other students after meeting their pen pals at Huntingburg Elementary School on Monday.

“Just to meet someone in a different school and to just realize that there are differences even in our little community,” she said

The kids sent each other between six and 10 letters beginning in September. They didn’t have any set criteria, but they did need to follow the setup of a friendly letter, which includes a heading, greeting, signature and so on. They started off by describing themselves and were later to discuss anything they wanted.

When they started communicating in September, the letters were a lone paragraph. By the end, they were pushing four.

Participating students asked each other lots of questions in those letters. So when they met earlier this week, they somewhat knew each other before the first conversation.

Whether they keep in touch going forward is up to the kids. Even if they don’t, they might see each other again one day on a sports field or at another activity, like past classes have.

“It’s something I hope that they will remember,” Qualkenbush said.

Dubois Elementary School third-grader Adalie Kalb, left, and her two Huntingburg Elementary pen pals, third-graders Camila Garcia and Marisa Thacker, talked about their pets as they ate popsicles during recess at Huntingburg Elementary School on Monday.
Dubois Elementary School third-grader Bodie Pieper pointed at his pen pal, Edwin Reyes, as Bodie guessed which Huntingburg Elementary third-grader was the one he had been writing to all year based on a physical description written by Edwin.
Dubois Elementary School third-grader Adalie Kalb adorned her letter with a rainbow. Adalie was pen pals with two Huntingburg Elementary School third-graders, Marisa Thacker and Camila Garcia.
Pen pals Dubois Elementary third-grader Bailey Werner and Huntingburg Elementary third-grader Peyton Gilmore played on the monkey bars together during recess at Huntingburg Elementary School on Monday. "It's huge. I thought it was an elementary, middle and high school," Bailey said about the size of Huntingburg Elementary. Peyton replied that she never realized her school was considered large.

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