Pen pals, students learn from each other

MARYSVILLE — This year marked Laura Fletcher’s third as a pen pal to an English Language Learner student, and she’s still learning as much as her student pen pals are from the experience.

“He told me about Pakistani kite-flying, so I looked it up on the Internet, and their kites are very different from the ones we use,” said Fletcher, a member of the Friends of the Marysville Library, who corresponded with Kellogg Marsh Elementary student Haroon Younis this year. “So I download an image of a Pakistani kite and sent it to him in a card.”

“I enjoyed writing to her,” Younis said on May 25, as Fletcher read to him from the book “Where the Wild Things Are.” “It was really fun.”

“What I like about Haroon’s writing is how I’ve been able to get a feel for his personality through his letters,” Fletcher said. “He’s really funny and I love how much that came through.”

Fletcher and Younis were among the 33 adult mentors and 60 ELL students in the Marysville School District who converged on the MSD Service Center on May 25 for the fifth annual MSD ELL pen pal celebration. Staci Tuck, who’s coordinated the ELL pen pals since she started the program as the librarian at Liberty Elementary, recalled how it began with only seven students and 15 adults.

“How’s that for growth?” Tuck asked the packed Board room, as she credited news organizations such as The Marysville Globe with contributing to the word of mouth that she cited as recruiting more and more adult mentors from the community each year. The Friends of the Marysville Library and various MSD employees have been joined as adult mentors and pen pals by members of the Sno-Isle Retired Teachers Association.

David Scott, director of categorical programs for the Marysville School District, shared with the students how a number of historically important figures were pen pals with one another, including Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi, and Theodore Roosevelt and Prince Edward.

“You’re joining illustrious company,” Scott said, before the students of Marysville-Pilchuck High School’s drama department put on a play of “The Sneeches” by Dr. Seuss.

Before a quartet of Kellogg Marsh Elementary students performed Hispanic dances and the Marysville YMCA’s Russian Minority Achiever Program acted out “The Three Little Pigs,” the ELL students and their adult pen pals got to read books together and catch up on each other’s lives. The pen pal program provides ELL students with opportunities to practice not only reading and writing, but also socializing.

For both years that Joan Penewell has served as an adult mentor, Thy Tran of Pinewood Elementary has been her pen pal.

“It’s exciting to get her letters,” Tran said. “It helps me learn how to spell and how to read. I liked learning about William Tell.”

“I remember when I was still in school, and my teachers did such a good job of making that story come alive for me,” Penewell said. “I’ve been so impressed with Thy’s reading and writing. She’s really grown up.”

“You’re having such an impact in these kids’ lives, that you won’t even fully know until years later,” Tuck told the adult mentors.


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