South Mountain, Clinton School Pen Pals Meet After Year of Correspondence


Fifth-graders put faces behind the letters at Friday gathering at Flood’s Hill.

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The following press release is from the South Orange-Maplewood School District:

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. – Fifth-graders from South Mountain and Clinton Elementary Schools met for the first time on Flood’s Hill on Friday morning after corresponding as pen pals throughout the school year.

South Mountain Elementary School Principal Kevin Mason had the idea to engage fifth-graders at both schools as pen pals in September. The point was to give them a writing activity for which they wouldn’t need their Chromebooks. Every other month throughout the school year, the students have written to their randomly selected fifth-grade counterparts in handwritten letters, delivered via the District’s inter-office, postage-free mail system.

“It was completely offline,” said Mason, “the way that I wrote letters when I was a kid.”

Being offline meant that students had to spellcheck themselves, and neatness counted when it came to their handwriting, Mason said.

Clinton Elementary School Principal Melissa Butler and South Mountain Elementary School Principal Kevin Mason.

Clinton Elementary School Principal Melissa Butler was completely on board with the pen pal idea back in September. She arranged for Clinton teachers to participate in a professional development session at South Mountain to enhance their students’ participation as pen pals.

On Friday, Butler said that one reason the pen pals idea was successful was the invaluable contributions of teachers in both schools.

“It’s a testament to the power of districtwide collaboration, demonstrating how it can positively impact the educational journeys ­– and ultimately transform the lives – of our students,” she said.

South Mountain ELA Teacher Rebecca Masters said she saw the exercise as a way to help students transition into South Orange Middle School.

South Mountain Elementary School Principal Kevin Mason receives a snap during a touch football game.

“It thought it would be nice for the students to get to know the people they would go to middle school with,” said Masters, who saw the potential to develop more formal lesson plans around letter writing.

There was a little awkwardness at first on Friday as the pen pals from both schools first met each other. But after a while, Flood’s Hill was active with touch football games, soccer kickabouts, batted whiffle balls, airborne Frisbees, and even a few conversations among students on picnic blankets.

Apparently, the year of letters had broken enough ice among the fifth-graders, most of whom will be at the same middle school in September.

Dr. Kevin F. Gilbert, Acting Superintendent of the South Orange & Maplewood School District, commended everyone who was involved in the effort.

“The Pen Pals idea reminds us that educational innovation comes from educators who are caring and engaged in developing our students’ academic and social skills,” Gilbert said. “I congratulate everyone who led this successful effort and look forward to seeing it develop next year.”

Fifth-graders playing whiffle ball on Flood’s Hill on Friday.

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