Trimble Schools Start Pen Pal Project As Bully-Prevention Initiative

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As part of a broader anti-bullying initiative within Trimble Local Schools, three teachers have started a pen pal project between the high school in Glouster and elementary school in Jacksonville.

Through the process of matching high schoolers with fifth graders, the teachers hope the experience instills a better understanding of the negative impacts of bullying and creates a mentorship opportunity.

“The hope is that (the high schoolers) internalize the topics they were writing about and actually live by example,” said Sara Leuring, who teaches English at the high school.

In the first set of letters, the older students, who range from freshman to senior, were tasked with describing the lessons they’re learning in their own bully-prevention unit. In addition to sharing what they’ve learned, they also tell of their own experiences, share advice and ask questions of the youngsters.

Leuring admits some of her students were resistant to the idea at first. All that changed when the first letters from the fifth-graders came back.

“The room was silent,” Leuring said. “That never, ever happens. They got so excited. It was a cool moment.”

Cortney Walls and Melissa Wilkes co-teach the participating Language Arts class at the elementary school. Walls said she’s be surprised by how quickly her students opened up to their older pen pals. Several students are sharing personal stories about family struggles or their own encounters with bullying.

“This is a cross-curriculum project,” Walls explained. “It’s not just about language arts. We’re incorporating technology, we’re building self-esteem, and they’re bonding.”

Some of the letters are hand-written while other are typed on a computer. The teachers deliver the letters to the school.

Fifth-grader Autumn Frank said she’s enjoyed the project “because I get what she’s feeling, and we have stuff in common. My favorite part was helping her through her problems and getting to know what she is like.”

After exchanging several letters, the students met face-to-face for the first time during a recent visit at the elementary school.

“I am hoping we can meet them again,” said fifth-grader Lindsay Balch. “I thought my pen pal was pretty fun and funny.”

Based on the feedback from the students, Leuring said she hopes to continue the pen pal project indefinitely. She’d also like to bring the fifth-graders up to the high school in the future.