By Stephen Wilson

Twenty third-graders from Cheston Elementary sit eagerly in a college classroom as they wait to meet the college students they have written all year as part of a pen pal program.

Slowly college students enter and look around for their pals. Hugs and high fives help warm up the pairs as they sit and talk and get ready to begin a college-wide scavenger hunt.

All of this is the brainchild of Emma Leeds ’19. She was inspired after a community-based learning and research (CBLR) class had her engaging Cheston students with lessons on climate change. CBLR is one of the pillars within the Landis Center for Community Engagement.

“I saw an opportunity and wanted to do it,” says Leeds. “So I set up the program and recruited my friends to help.”

Serving as a sounding board for the project, Andrea Armstrong, assistant professor of environmental science and studies, discussed the idea with Leeds.

“This was her vision,” says Armstrong. “I was honored to support it, knowing the impact a pen pal can have.”

Armstrong remembers writing as a child to an elderly member of her community.

“It opens up doors for people who normally would not connect,” Armstrong says.

Third-grade teacher Allison Antonson watched her students learn to love writing the college students. Set aside the lessons in handwriting and grammar, Antonson saw college dreams and community ties grow.

Here’s a snippet from each pair that illustrates the power of the pen and an image of their best smile or silly face:

Anthony and DianaAnthony and Diana

It was great finally being able to meet you in person at the field trip! I had so much fun! What the field trip experience meant to me was that we were able to get to know each other in person and build our friendship. 🙂  

Ashley sits next to her pen pal JillianAshley and Jillian

I had so much fun with you on our scavenger hunt the other day! I hope you had fun and that you learned a little bit more about Lafayette and college! I know it’s far away but super fun! If you keep working hard at Cheston you can have fun at college someday too!

Sarah sits next to her pen pal AvalonSarah and Avalon

I am very happy that you had so much fun at Lafayette! I also really like to write to you too, and it is a lot of fun learning about your interests and what your life is like.

Matthew sits next to his pen pal TedMatthew and Ted

I loved our scavenger hunt. My favorite part was probably looking at the rocks and playing in the sand.

Christian sits next to his pen pal CarolineChristian and Caroline

It was so great to finally meet you the other week on campus!!  I hope you had an awesome time visiting Lafayette! The scavenger hunt was so much fun—you carried our team!  I was so impressed with how well you were able to lead us around campus (and you are a super fast runner too!).

Illana sits next to her pen pal JessIllana and Jess

I think it would be really cool if you went to Lafayette or a different college when you’re older. I love college; it’s so much fun. Hopefully you can be a pen pal at Cheston when you’re in college too! You are such a kind, sweet, and smart girl. I know you will be able to do anything if you set your mind to it.

Jaylen sits next to his pen pal JoeJaylen and Joe

I loved going to the Lafayette. It’s so fun. I wish we could go again. I love that place so much.  I will hate when you leave. I love you as my pen pal and loved visiting Lafayette.

Jeremy sits next to his pen pal KaitlinJeremy and Kaitlin

I think it is very cool that you want to be an engineer. You are going to do amazing things!!!

Check this out—it is my new favorite picture of two pufferfish. I can’t wait to hear back from you, my pufferfish friend.

Joslyn sits next to her pen pal OliviaJoslyn and Olivia

I miss you so much. I had such a good time at Lafayette! I wish I could see you at the store or something. If I did, it would be the best day ever. Sadly you leave college soon because if you stayed till you were 47 I would see you again because we get to go to Lafayette College every year.

Keyoni sits next to his pen pal ZackKeyoni and Zack

It was really cool getting to meet someone that I had been talking to for a long time.

Leah sits next to her pen pal PaigeLeah and Paige

I miss you so much! You’re so nice to me. I wish I could see you every day! Once we started walking away from you guys, I started to cry because I already missed you! You’re the best pen pal anyone could ever ask for! You’re so nice and sweet! Do you like to have a pen pal? Can you tell Emma I said “thank you very much for everything that you did for us!”

Nicholas sits next to his pen pal OliviaNicholas and Olivia

I had a great time at Lafayette. It was the best. I wish I could go to college already. How many years do you have left of college? The campus is really big. Do you remember going on the Quad and planting a plant? Oh, and do you remember going to the radio station? The sticker I got was really cool. It stinks that you had to go to class. What classes do you take? I actually have a science fair coming up. I am going to make a electromagnet.

Patrick sits next to his pen pal ChrisPatrick and Chris

It was LIT when I met you!!!!  I can’t wait to read your next letter. P.S. Do you remember my friends?

Kara sits next to her pen pal DruelzKara and Druelz

The trip to Lafayette College was amazing. I liked it. I like the heat during summer.

Sherelin sits next to her pen pal OliviaSherelin and Olivia

It was wonderful getting to meet you in person. You have a beautiful smile and an amazing personality. I can tell that you are a smart and hardworking girl. Like I said before, who says you can’t be BOTH a lawyer and a movie star??!! I hope you enjoyed the day as much as I did. If you ever have any questions about going to college or what you want to be when you grow up, you know you can ALWAYS reach out to me! <3

Soraya sits next to her pen pal MarinaSoraya and Marina

I had so much fun on the scavenger hunt with you! The food at the dining hall was so good! It makes me excited to go to college one day. Marina, you are my best friend forever.  I hope one day I get to go back to Lafayette College and get to see Wilbur again. He was the cutest and softest puppy I had ever met.

Oscar sits next to his pen pal AudrielOscar and Audriel

I had so much fun walking around Lafayette. Seeing where the radio station is was definitely my favorite part.  I got to see who was hosting the show. The food at your school was sooo delicious. My favorite part was the yummy soup and the cookie I got at the end!

David sits next to his pen pal AmyDavid and Amy

My favorite part of Lafayette was when me and my pen pal went to the basketball stadium. I also liked when we ate. I ate four plates! It was very good.

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