Hales Corners students gain appreciation for older generation with pen-pal program

Photo by Heather Ronaldson
Pen pals Kamyla Held (left) and Doris Zankl hug at Care-Age Rehabilitation center in Brookfield
Published on: 6/24/2014

Hales Corners — Debbie Sipola's fourth-grade class at Hales Corners Elementary School didn't know what to write at first to their new pen pals — senior citizens at Care-Age Rehabilitation center in Brookfield.

But after months of correspondence, the class finally met their pen pals and built a relationship that transcends age.

This is not the first time Sipola has integrated pen pals into her teaching curriculum. The experience is cross-curricular, she said, with letters that contain information on many different subjects.

'It was like living history for the children,' said Sipola.

With prompts, students learned to ask their pen pals about what school was like for them as a kid, if they have a family and what their job was.

'They gained so much appreciation for the older generation,' said Sipola.

Many students were surprised to learn of their pals growing up without modern technology. In letters, seniors wrote about games or toys — Spud, Hula Hoop and Captain, May I, among them — they played as a kid — that the fourth-graders had never heard of.

One senior even wrote: 'Please excuse my hand writing. My hand does not work like it used to. I'm 96 years old.'

At Care-Age, the students pushed their pen pals in wheelchairs, joined them for rounds of Bingo and shared a pizza lunch. Then they put on a concert with string instruments and sang baseball-themed songs.

'Some of the kids started crying,' said Sipola of the musical performance.

After the visit, children thanked their pals and asked promised to keep in touch this summer.

Sipola added: 'I really hope some of the kids keep writing.'