Penning a Project for the Ages

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The project concept was carefully crafted, spanned ages, grades and curriculum, and featured a timeless question at its core – what makes you happy? 
“In Grade seven, we covered a whole unit on happiness,” says Rita Iafrate, Teacher at Bayview Glen School (BVG). “What does happiness look like? What does it feel like? What does it sound like?” 

It was the basis for the Pen Pal Happiness Project pairing more than 75 Grade 7 students with Junior Kindergarten students. 

Following their first meeting just before March Break, the two age groups met on multiple occasions over a three-month period to get to know each other and delve more deeply into the question of their individual happiness.  
Students from each grade would also share letters written to their younger and older pen pal partner, along the way. 

“It was amazing to see how caring and gentle the Grade 7s were with their pen pals,” says Andrew Moore, Teacher at BVG. “They were so excited every time we announced that we would be seeing them in person, and they took such care with the letters they sent to the JKs; decorating the envelopes, drawing pictures in the letters.” 

Students in each of the four Grade 7 classes were also able to share the gift of reading with their new reading buddies, while nurturing new friendships. 

The project process also yielded new learnings for teachers involved. 

“I learned that what really bonds people together is that shared experience, something that is relatable,” continues Iafrate, who has been teaching at BVG for 30 years. “For the Grade 7s and JKs, it’s that concept of play and giving them that positive message. It doesn’t matter what age you are; it’s what makes you happy that counts. It’s that feeling of positivity and purpose,” she says. 

As friendships blossomed over weeks and months during their brief visits, so, too, did the appetite for more. In this case, a culminating storybook written and illustrated by each Grade 7 student for their younger buddy, with their JK pen pal featured as the protagonist of the story. 

“They’ve really gotten to know their pen pal,” says Iafrate, of the Grade 7 students. “What is their favorite colour? What’s their favourite animal, or sport? They’ve incorporated all of those personal concepts or facts into each book. They’ve been so engaged and so excited about writing this book for their pen pal. And it also gives them the opportunity to feel like they’re authoring a book. It really gives them that confidence as writers.” 

Further evidence of the students’ engagement and the impact of the project came in feedback teacher Andrew Moore received from several of his students, including — “can we see them again next year? My buddy gave me a hug! Can I adopt mine?”  

A successful project completion, bringing with it a new source of happiness!