Through weekly meals with my assigned student in the Lunch Buddies program before COVID-19, I experienced the circus that is an elementary school lunchtime — trays of food can turn into abstract art projects or unfortunate airplanes soaring through the air, the series of bars supporting the tables can become handlebars that provide an early escape to recess, and the absence of supervision allow minds to discover limitless conversation topics. Once the pandemic hit, this program, like so many others, was no longer possible.

In an attempt to revive the engagement between college and local elementary school students, and enable some extra writing practice, a teacher and I worked to start a pen pal program with her students. Pen pal pairings began to form connections in just the first round of responses. The elementary school students wrote about their similar interests, asked for advice in sports, and shared pictures of their pets. My pen pal moved states at the beginning of 2020 and detailed challenges associated with settling into a new place during a pandemic. He also has a love of LEGOs and building things, and we’ve been brainstorming ideas for 3D printed objects. Additional excitement for the pen pal program was seen when one elementary school student sent two letters in her most recent response: one from herself and one from her little brother who wanted to be included.

I’ve been inspired by each pen pal’s ability to utilize written communication to form relationships during a time with a limited ability to connect to one another. A sense of connection is restored by these weekly letters, full of doodles and jokes, exchanged between fellow students in isolation.

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