New Brunswick

Pen pal project bridging the gap between two generations

Since being matched with local seniors as part of a new project, Robyn Leger's Grade 3 students are enjoying writing old-fashioned letters, and making close connections outside of the classroom.

Elementary students paired with seniors to learn about the art of letter writing and each other

Bertha Douglas used to go to Port Elgin Regional School when she was a student. She said she enjoys having a connection to a much younger generation, and thinks the children can benefit from meeting different people in their community. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Since being matched with local seniors as part of a new project, Robyn Leger's Grade 3 students at Port Elgin Regional School are enjoying writing old-fashioned letters, and making close connections outside of the classroom.

The project started with students mailing their first batch of letters out last month. 

Replies are starting to trickle in now.

"It's really cool to see when these letters come in, it's like Christmas for them," said Léger.

"I'm like, 'Oh, here is a pen pal letter,' and they get excited — 'Who's it from? Who it's from?'"

Robyn Léger is a teacher at Port Elgin Regional School. Some of the senior pen pals were born in different countries. As the students learn these facts, the class looks up the countries on a map and Léger uses it as an opportunity to teach them about other places in the world. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

When Pam Van Egnond of Nursing Homes Without Walls suggested the idea, Léger was anxious to get her students involved.

She offered a bit of advice to students in her two classes, who were paired up and matched with 20 seniors.

The Grade 3 students were told about the importance of being courteous and to ask their pen pal questions to help get to know them better. They started out with a template to get the ball rolling.

"Now they're personalizing their letters a little more," said Léger of the Christmas letters that are being written this week.

She said one of the goals this year is to help the students to start, "stepping outside of the walls of Port Elgin to see what else is out there."

That has been made easier, because two of the pen pals come from other countries.

"So now I have them super interested in learning more about Germany and Scotland, which is really cool," said Léger.

Martin Legere, Decklin Phinney are Gertrude Douglas's pen pals. While there are decades between them, they are all say they're happy to be writing back and forth. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Grade 3 writing partners Martin Legere and Decklin Phinney shared their favourite colours, green and black with their pen pal and posed a few questions like 'Where are you from?' and 'When were you born?'

They say they're looking forward to sharing a few more details about themselves in future letters — fun facts such as Martin is the tallest kid in his class, while Decklin has two brothers.

A quick survey of the classes reveals that pets, siblings and the pandemic are common topics of interest.

While most of the students aren't overly concerned about COVID-19, Martin was clear in his letter that his preference is for stricter regulations.

"I like it in the red zone because we can just stay inside and have some hot chocolate," he said.

Martin Legere and Decklin Phinney patiently await a reply from Bertha Douglas. She said they can expect to receive it any day now. (Robyn Léger/Submitted)

Martin and Decklin's pen pal, Bertha Douglas of Point de Bute, mailed a reply to the boys earlier this week. 

She said the project had a nice ring to it when it was suggested.

"It seems a community spirit, spirited idea," said Douglas.

"There was an interest with the older people and the students, so I thought, 'Well, I think that's something I could do and I'll give it a try'."

Douglas liked the thought of her pen pals getting to know about the life of a senior they don't otherwise know.

"Sometimes there's a lot of connection with families and a community with all the age groups, but sometimes not so much," she said.

"Maybe this is good all around for the seniors, of course, and for the children."

Bertha Douglas holds the letter her pen pals sent her last month. She's written back, and can expect to receive a Christmas Card in her mail box soon. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Douglas' response to the boys informed them that her favourite colour is "rosy pink — the colour of the wild roses in summer."

"My first home was in Sackville and my family moved to a farm in Point de Bute when I was in Grade 7, so they and my brothers and I went to school in Port Elgin," Douglas wrote.

She continued, "It's a summer birthday for me. When are your birthdays? I will tell you about my family next time. Happy Christmas."

Douglas said she didn't want to write too much, and was conscious of the fact the students may not be able to read cursive.

"They're doing printing, I think, nowadays," she said.

Douglas said the pandemic and her aversion to driving long distances can be limiting, but she is aware that other people have it far worse so she does what she can to stay connected and participate in her community.

"As long as the rural mail is working down here at the highway, then I can certainly write a note."


Tori Weldon


Tori Weldon is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been working for the CBC since 2008.


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