Learning cursive bears fruit of friendship for Scottsdale students, senior pen pals

Generations converged Wednesday, May 1 as Cochise Elementary School students and residents from Vi at Grayhawk continuing care retirement community met in the culmination of a nine-month project.

Sherry Antol’s fifth grade students wrote residents of the retirement community throughout the school year, and the residents would respond, as a way for the students to learn cursive writing, formal communication and have a pen pal.

Students and residents met, for the first time, face-to-face, sharing smiles, stories and games.

Across the room, residents’ faces would light up as the students would tell them stories and students would listen to those stories of the senior citizens. There were many instances of residents and students playing games of Connect Four and Jenga.

Fifth grader Palmer Lupien said while he learned a lot about his pen pal through letters, meeting them in person was an even better experience.

“I thought it was really beneficial for kids our age to meet people who … have experienced so much more experience than us,” he said. “They could tell us things they experienced. It was really cool knowing about all the stuff they said to us.”

Ms. Antol said she and a former teacher, who is also a resident at Vi at Grayhawk, brainstormed ways to find a “real-world purpose” for her students to learn cursive writing. The result yielded the intergenerational pen pal program.

This forced the students to realize they weren’t only writing in cursive for their teacher, but for others reading it. Early on, there was apprehensions, Ms. Antol said, solely on writing in cursive, not writing to a pen pal.

Students would write one letter each month and the senior residents would respond within the month. This led to relationships between the students and residents growing deeper.

“We didn’t think it would turn out as positive as it did but the kids love it,” Ms. Antol said. “The seniors here love it. We had so many other seniors that wanted to get in and be a part of it but I didn’t have enough students.”

During her experience writing letters, Anne Oswald, a resident of Vi at Grayhawk, found a commonality in golfing with her pen pal. Ms. Oswald recalled details of her pen pal including her recent hole in one and the future arrival of a younger sibling.

Though her pen pal didn’t attend the event, Ms. Oswald did get to meet another fifth grader and talked with him. She said this experience has been good because she and her fellow senior citizens don’t interact with young children.

“It’s been a real nice experience to have 10- and 11-year-olds to meet,” she said. “There’s a big difference in our age. My grandchildren are all grown. I’m waiting for the next generation.”

Still, Ms. Oswald said there are plans for her to meet her pen pal over the summer.

Ms. Antol said throughout the school year, she’s seen the project evolve from students just working on their cursive to what it became by the end of the year.

“I definitely think this has been a great project, getting kids communicating in a more formal way,” she said.

“I would continue it again. Some of the seniors here want it to continue so they’re going to continue throughout the summer without me. Then next year, I’m hoping to get a new crop of residents here and students and start it all over again.”

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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