Seventy-five years separate Hailey Camblin and Peggy Davern in age.
But never mind that Hailey is 11 and Peggy is 86. The pair with a gaping generation gap has found out they actually have a few things in common. They have been writing letters to each other about twice a month since the beginning of Hailey’s fifth grade school year at Chandler’s Navarette Elementary School.
Hailey and Peggy are pen pals — a concept we aren’t hearing too much of anymore after the advent of email and text messaging.
“It’s been wonderful,” Davern said of the interaction. “It’s been interesting seeing what her thoughts are. These are very, very sharp kids. I used to have a pen pal, so I knew it was important to write. We found out that we have something in common. We both like to travel.”
Hailey said she is going to Switzerland, Germany and Italy with her family this summer, and she has made Peggy a promise: She’s going to continue writing to her this summer and send her postcards from across Europe.
Camblin is one of 26 Navarette fourth- or fifth-grade gifted students who are priding themselves on their PPPs: Practicing penmanship, writing poems, being pen pals, and planning to keep a promise.
They’re accomplishing that through their written interaction with a group of nearly as many senior citizens from Tempe’s Friendship Village retirement community. For the first time Wednesday, the Navarette students and their Friendship Village pals got to meet in person, when a busload of the seniors trekked to the Chandler campus.
It was refreshing to hear that teacher Joanne Terrell’s students have been partaking in the power of the pen since the beginning of the school year — and that they plan to keep up with their promise of continuing the letter writing with their “friends” in the future.
With the 2011-2012 school year coming to a close next week, most of the seniors — most in their late 80s who had been exchanging letters with their younger friends — 10 and 11 years old, visited Navarette for cookies and lemonade, some music from the school’s orchestra and to listen to poems about friendship written by the students. Now, Terrell who is known for clapping her hands and snapping her fingers before telling her students to turn down their voices or put them in their pockets when she wants their attention, somewhat threw that out the window on Wednesday.
Instead, anticipation and excitement grew in the voices of the students as the bus from Friendship Village arrived, escorted by Eunice Goldberg activities director for the Tempe community, and other volunteers — the students to meet their pen pals for the first time
“It’s been a day brightener,” said Terrell as the students shook hands and hugged their “new friends” as they arrived and got off the bus, many of the visitors pushing walkers. “This is very, very special. It has taught the students to honor and respect the elderly, learn about history, honor what they’ve been through and what they’ve done for our future. These are people who have lived through the Great Depression; some were in World War II.” It was neat to see the smile on student Casey Sullivan’s face when her pen pal, Doris Edminster got off the bus and the two held hands as Casey led Doris to her classroom.
Or great to see the smile on Cameron Linder’s face when he met his pen pal, Bob Edminster, 88.
Student Randy Powers met up with John Wartman, student Brenna Vanhorn met Reta Keith and student Masy Racine met Carolyn Black, among other pairings
Nancy Linder, a retired schoolteacher who volunteers at Friendship village and whose grandson, Cameron Linder is in Terrell’s class, helped to coordinate the pen pal program. Terrell’s class is involved in other community projects including raising money for the Friends for Life pet rescue, and she thought that writing letters would be a great idea for the students to write their Pen Pals and visit them at Friendship Village at the end of the school year.
But by the time the year neared its close, the school’s field trip budget was on empty, so instead of the students traveling to Friendship Village, the seniors came to the school to enjoy the morning after they already had imparted their knowledge — and curiosity in their letters.
“They’ve experienced history; we just read about it,” said Aarjav Pandya, 11, whose pen pal was Dottie Long. Long turned 100 on March 28 but could not make it to the school. “You never know, a textbook might be wrong, but these people know it because they’ve lived it.”
Phil Elwell, was one of the youngest pen pals at 67, said the letters from his pen pals, Graham Fawson and Imraan Mushtaq, were “very professional.”
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Elwell said. “This has taken me back to my childhood. You have to think back when what we were doing at that age. In the letters, we asked them about sports, their pets, trips they might be taking or their favorite subjects in school. In some of my letters, I included information about Arizona so they could learn more about their state.”
Duane Hart, 88, who is a native of Wilcox and whose family was one of Arizona’s pioneer families, said that his pen pal, Aiden Neill, was “a little gentleman.”
“When you pass 80 years old, it’s easy to get the feeling that no one gives a hoot about you,” Hart said. “Well, Aiden loves me an Jesus loves me.”
Aiden said, “I think writing has been a fun experience. I’ve learned a lot and know that I have a lot more adventures ahead in my life.”
Many of the students also made a promise to stay in touch, and there’s no excuse not to now. Goldberg presented the students the tools to do it. She gave each student a pen and pencil set. And I didn’t hear any complaints or anyone asking for an iPad or a Kindle, instead.
As the seniors’ visit was nearing a close, Terrell told the seniors about what they did for her students: “Writing and friendship is a gift, and you all have given it to them.”
To which Elwell said, “As much as we gave the students, they gave as much right back.”
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