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Pen Pals Just Two Miles Away Meet For The First Time

Perhaps you've had a pen pal as a kid. Chances are it was someone who lives far away. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools SchoolMates program has a pen pal program among its own schools. In one case, students from schools less than two miles apart wrote letters to each other throughout the school year. Wednesday, they got to meet each other for the first time.

After exchanging letters for a whole year and guessing at what they looked like, the pen pals finally met during a field trip to Queens University. They played tug of war, hula hoops and ate ice cream.

Wesley Baxter was really excited to meet his pen pal. Wesley's a first grader at Park Road Montessori. It's a magnet school in south Charlotte, where about 95 percent of students perform at grade level. Steven Lopez is a third grader at Sedgefield Elementary, just two miles away. Sixty percent of students there perform at grade level, where most students are from low-income families. They said they were both nervous to meet each other. But they didn't talk about those differences, it was basic kid talk.

BAXTER: I thought the first note from me said that you liked pizza? 
LOPEZ: Yeah, I did say that but I didn't know that you would like that too!
BAXTER: Everybody likes pizza remember?
LOPEZ: Not everybody."

Steven's third grade teacher at Sedgefield is Kelyn Blackburn.

"I've never done one before, so it always seemed like a lot of work on the teacher's part," Blackburn says. "Especially working at a Title I school, it's kind of, your priorities are trying to get these kids where they need to be academically."

But she says the pen pal program turned out to be a valuable learning opportunity for the students.

"I have one student who was an ESL student beginning of the year," she says. "He was reading maybe 15 words per minute, really struggling, not motivated to read at all. And his pen pal suggested Captain Underpants. It's a chapter book and a pretty hefty chapter book. And so he, every day, since the last two months, he's been [reading] chapter books. And he's grown a lot fluency-wise, he's motivated to read, even if it's just those books. It's a huge difference from the beginning of the year."

Mostly the students wrote about their favorite colors and foods. But Lily Sadoff, a third grader from Park Road Montessori School, tried to teach her pen pal, Jatorra Judge, a different language.

"I asked her a few questions and I told her some stuff about myself like that I do gymnastics and I showed her how to write her name in Ancient Greek," Lily says.    

As they boarded the bus to go back to their schools, the students were given pencils and encouraged to write to each other over the summer.