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Pedley Pen Pals Flourish

In the age of the keystroke, pen on paper still makes an impression. That's one lesson from a pen-pal program linking students at Pedley Elementary with pupils at Horizon International School in Sendai, Japan.

This academic year, 24 fifth and sixth graders at Pedley have swapped letters with elementary school peers in Sendai, Riverside's Japanese Sister City. 

In their letters, Pedley students have described things they like while sharing stories about holidays such as Easter and activities such as Science Camp, said their teacher, Theresa Hoag.  In return, they have learned about facets of Japanese culture and discovered a global affinity for the online video game Fortnite.

“One benefit is the students' experience writing for a purpose other than completing a work assignment, which makes writing more interesting," Ms. Hoag said.  “Through exchanging letters, the students learned they have things in common with students on the other side of the world."  ​

The students began writing this school year after Yoko Boucher, Sendai Sister City chairperson, shared initial letters from Sendai while seeking Riverside-area students to write back.  Since then, correspondence both ways has been hand-delivered via plane by Ms. Boucher, her colleagues, or Ms. Emiko Kikuchi from the Sendai school – no stamps or email account required.

The Pedley and Sendai students have exchanged letters three times, Ms. Hoag said.  And because the Sendai students study in English, there is no language barrier: “The biggest 'barrier' is that sometimes we cannot tell if a student is a boy or girl because his/her name is new to us."

In addition to teaching cultural awareness, the letters have helped Jurupa students learn craftsmanship, attention to detail and pride in their work.

“Because these were letters to friends/peers, I stressed to the students that it had to be their best work – no silly mistakes, use their best penmanship, etc.," Ms. Hoag said.  “I think they learned that it's hard work (and important) to make a good impression on others.  They felt proud of their letters."

The teacher also used the correspondence to teach the grade-schoolers how to respond to a letter; for example, the students were instructed to highlight and then reply to the questions in each letter.  “This helped the students realize that letter-writing (and speaking) is a back-and-forth activity, not just a time to talk about yourself," she said.

For students, the pen-on-paper notes have made an impression: The correspondence has delivered charm, engagement and an ever-fresh page for learning without limits – socially, academically and geographically.  “It has broadened the students' perception of who they can be friends with," Ms. Hoag said.  “They can have friends from across the street or from across the ocean."