Teaching Fellows meet fourth-grade pen pals
Fifty-two freshmen in Western Carolina University’s Teaching Fellows Program recently met in person with their 48 fourth-grade pen pals from Robbinsville Elementary School.
The annual pen pal program that matches scholarship-supported aspiring teachers at WCU to fourth-grade students is designed to help the elementary school students practice writing and literacy skills, and help WCU students learn more about teaching. In addition, the experience left members of both institutions more excited about their futures – fourth-graders about the possibility of going to college, and college students about becoming teachers.
The first pen pal writing assignment centered on poetry. WCU students wrote acrostic poems – assigning one word that describes themselves to each letter of their names – and wrote about an animal that they felt represented their personality. The fourth-grade students shared the same about themselves in their responses.
The second writing assignment focused on how to write a friendly letter with elements such as an address line, salutation and closing. WCU students not only shared more information about themselves, but also wrote about the importance of education and doing well in school. The elementary school students again responded.
About a month after the program began, the Robbinsville Elementary students visited WCU to meet their pen pals, hear more about them and learn where each was from, which tied into their studies of North Carolina geography. In addition, the fourth-graders read to their college pen pals from books they brought and asked them survey questions before touring the WCU campus, enjoying a dance activity and eating pizza.
Fourth-grade teacher Charla Buchanan, whose students participated along with students in Theresa Moody’s class, said her students were excited throughout the project but that the highlight was meeting the pen pals in person and visiting WCU’s campus.
“For most of our students, it was their first visit to a college campus, and they were amazed,” said Buchanan. Students asked question such as how much college costs and how long students go to college, and several said they were sure they wanted to go. “We talked about the importance of setting goals and working hard to achieve those goals, and the necessity of starting now,” she said. “One student commented that he was going ‘to work hard and make good grades’ so he could go to college. We have done this project for several years, and I have former students that still talk about the project with fond memories. This project helps plant a seed in the minds of students who never considered continuing their education, and helps the seed sprout and begin to grow in the minds of students who thought they might go to college.”
Meanwhile, the visit from the fourth-grade classes gave WCU students the chance to experience what it takes to manage classes, from coordinating bathroom breaks to following rules for the day.
“Our students study techniques and skills that they are going to be developing, and this program offers them a chance to begin seeing in action how teachers build on those skills to effectively manage a classroom of diverse students with different needs,” said Jacqueline Smith, WCU Teaching Fellows program director. “Teaching is not just teaching a lesson and knowing your subject area. That’s just one aspect surrounding the skill of teaching.”
Jonathan Cauley, a freshman from Sylva majoring in secondary biology education, said he was impressed with his pen pal’s reading skills and moved by how excited his pen pal was to meet him.
“The students had a desire for us to take an interest in what they care about,” said Cauley. “It helped me see that support from a teacher may be one of the best ways to encourage students to learn. If we care about them and the little things going on in their lives, then it seems that they may have more of a desire to see what we have to say about education and what we are teaching them.”
Peter Peltack, a freshman from Catawba double majoring in secondary science education and chemistry, said the experience made him feel even more enthusiastic about teaching.
“The most amazing part of the day was when the students were getting on the bus,” said Peltack. “Each of them ran to give me a hug, some of them telling me that they could not wait for me to be their teacher. Who knows? Maybe I will teach them one day, maybe I won’t, but I do know for sure that I cannot wait to get into the classroom simply because a few students were just as excited as I am to become a teacher.”
The North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program, enacted by the General Assembly in 1986, recruits talented high school graduates into the teaching profession, provides a $6,500 per yer scholarship for four years to 500 high school seniors and offers educational development programs. Participants agree to teach for four years following graduation in one of North Carolina’s public schools. The state budget includes reduced funding for the program to start phasing out N.C. support for the program.
For more information, contact Smith at 828-227-7056 or email@example.com.