‘The Big Kids’ at college write to elementary school children

Through a Center for Civic Engagement sponsored program, elementary school students get the opportunity to find out what life is like for ‘the big kids’ in college.

In the Pen Friends program, WSU students write letters each week to first-grade through fourth-grade elementary students grades, who then write back in order to practice literacy skills.

Jacob McKissick, the literacy program graduate assistant and coordinator for Pen Friends, said the program offers valuable reading and writing practice for elementary students, but it also allows them to connect with those who are older.

“Not to mention the literary development the program offers, but there’s also ‘what are college students doing, what is college about,’” McKissick said. “It’s important for them to think about.”

Erin McIlraith, marketing and communications coordinator for the CCE, said each letter WSU students write has a theme, such as what they did over break or what their favorite thing about school is.

“There’s something really exciting for the elementary school kids to be interacting with 18, 19, and 20-year-olds,” McIlraith said. “There’s something really fun about that interaction.”

Senior interior design major Taylor Brock was involved with the Pen Friends program last spring. It gives elementary students someone to look up to, she said.

“I remember at that age the thought of a big kid was so scary, and it just kind of breaks down the walls,” Brock said.

The program is one of the longest-running offered by the CCE, beginning around its opening in 1998, McIlraith said. The program has recently been added to OrgSync, which allows students to register online.

This semester enrollment reached 183 students within the first week, making it one of the most popular semesters to date, McKissick said.

WSU students are paired up with elementary students all over Whitman County and in every elementary school in Pullman, McKissick said.

Brock said deciphering the letters from the younger students who are still learning to write is one of the fun challenges the program offers.

“My favorite thing was I would come home with my three roommates, and we would try to figure out what he was trying to say,” Brock said.

Brock said the engagement of the elementary students is also apparent in each letter, which makes it more enjoyable to respond to them.

“It’s such a simple thing, it doesn’t take much time, but every week I looked forward to it,” Brock said.