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Pre-K students make pen pals nationwide
Jennifer Embrick, center, stands with two of her Jefferson Elementary School pre-kindergarten students, Rayann Mitsdarffer, left, and Caroline Kinsey, in front of a map where the students display postcards they received from their pen pals. - photo by Brandee Thomas

JEFFERSON — Without ever leaving their classroom, the pre-kindergarten students at Jefferson Elementary School have made friends with other students around the United States.

Four years ago, Jennifer Embrick decided to launch a pen pal program between her class and other Pre-K classes around the country.

"I found this real estate Web site that lists all the schools in different areas around the United States," Embrick said. "I would pick a few schools and send a preliminary e-mail to the teachers to see if they were interested in participating."

Once a teacher replied affirmatively, Embrick would send out a picture of the students and a postcard with information about the school and Jefferson.

Whenever the class receives a postcard, they post it on a map of the United States on the corresponding state.

"We haven’t been able to fill up the entire map, but the most that we’ve ever lacked was about four or five states," Embrick said. "But even still, we had about 80 postcards from other schools."

Although the kids are excited about the program now, Embrick says they get even more enthusiastic as the year progresses.

"The kids love getting mail. We go by the mailbox everyday to see if we’ve gotten something from one of our pen pals," she said. "They are excited now, but they really get excited once the map starts getting full."

At first, the pre-K pen pal program started with just Embrick’s class, but now all four pre-K classes participate in the program.

"Having the pen pal program helps the kids understand that their world is bigger than their classroom and neighborhood," said Stacey Blagg, a pre-K teacher at Jefferson Elementary School. "The big draw for the kids is to see a picture from our pen pals."

Each year, Embrick clears off the map and starts fresh. So far this year, they’ve gotten postcards from five other states, including Montana, New Mexico and Colorado.

"The other kids send us cards and we learn from them about them, their state and their school," said Caroline Kinsey, one of Embrick’s students.

"Our last one came from Hawaii," added Rayann Mitsdarffer, another student from Embrick’s class.

Sometimes the students get more than a picture and postcard from their new pals.

"One year, we had pen pals from New Orleans and they sent us a King Cake and Mardi Gras beads," Embrick said. "Another year, thanks to one of our parents, we were able to connect with a school in Thailand and they made a video and sent it to us. It was in a different language, so we didn’t understand what they were saying, but the kids really enjoyed getting something from a foreign country."

Although the children are enjoying communicating with their pen pals the old-fashioned way, Blagg says they are hoping to upgrade the program.

"We’re working with our media specialist to see if we can’t work out a way to use web cams to communicate with the other schools," she said. "That way, we could not only help the children learn about other places, but we could also teach them about different types of technology."

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