R.K. Smith pen pals are bringing back writing with style

Jeanne Arabie was delighted over getting a pen pal – a 13-year-old girl at R.K. Smith Middle School – and especially welcomed it as an opportunity for the student to learn cursive writing.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Arabie, RSVP’s interim director. “If something happens with technology and it breaks down, I think we will have a lot of people lost.”

R.K. Smith Teacher Kristina Vail Orlando not only agreed with Arabie, but acted on it by getting a Brown Foundation grant to promote cursive writing, as well as using it to reconnect students to their community in the digital age.

Cursive writing was removed from Louisiana school curriculums, as it was with many schools nationally, leaving many wondering, including Arabie, about the future of children who understood laptops and tech devices but not cursive writing or even the ability to read vital documents like the Constitution written in script. But it’s making a comeback with many school systems in the U.S., passing laws restoring cursive proficiency in public schools.

R.K. Smith students picking out Christmas cards for their pen pals.

Arabie questioned its loss and even asked her own grandson whether he knew script – and he didn’t. She added, “This technology is taking them to a whole new way of writing letters than the way we used to. The internet computer is all they have now.”

Orlando also agreed.

Called “Community Care: Eco-Education, Senior Salutations and Literacy Learning,” the $6,000 grant is funding the teacher’s three-pronged approach with 37 students. It calls for activities aimed at instilling leadership, communication skills, civic mindedness, volunteerism, appreciation and even contentment. It will extend into environmental impact and they’ll co-write books about these topics through a program called Story Jumper.

“You just don’t want to leave everything behind,” she said. “Bring the good stuff with you into the future.”

Orlando wants to demonstrate their impact on their world through service learning, as well as reading, current events exploration and digital literacy.

Pen pals, referred to as senior salutations in the grant, is about connecting R.K. Smith students with older citizens in the community and developing relationships or intergenerational collaboration, she said.

“We’re doing the letter part to teach letter writing through the mail,” Orlando said. “They have to do it in writing, not print, because the kids don’t know how to write in script anymore because they’re getting computers instead of writing classes.”

Nov. 18 marked the first day Arabie sent her pen pal a letter. The experience had her reflecting on her own childhood pen pal from Indiana. She had met the girl on a camping trip and even came to Louisiana to visit her one summer. They shared problems and helped each grown in experience during their nearly three years of writing to each other. Now, she hopes her letters to the student “will bring a smile to her.”

Cursive or writing in script.

Orlando said her students are eager to open their mail, and they’re finding their place in the world.

“I want for them to understand they have a lot to give the world,” she said. “The things they contribute to their school and community, it makes a difference. They’ll make an impact and build those relationships with people, hopefully, build that sense of civic responsibility.”


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