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Pen Pals to Meet Face to Face at Smith

By now, they know a bit about each other, though they’ve never met.

When more than 120 students from the Morgan Elementary School in Holyoke, and Conway Grammar School in Conway, Mass. meet at Smith on Tuesday, Nov. 21, they’ll get to know each other better.

The students -- second-graders in Holyoke, and second-, third- and sixth-graders in Conway -- began a yearlong pen pal correspondence this fall.

They will meet for the first time over lunch in the Campus Center Carroll Room. After, the kids will split up for tours of the Museum of Art, the Botanic Garden and Lyman Conservatory, and Neilson Library.

The pen pal program, now in its third year, exposes kids from urban Holyoke to their rural counterparts in small-town Conway, located about 25 miles north of Northampton, and vice versa.

An annual meeting of the kids was the idea of the husband-wife teaching team of Rick Gifford, who teaches sixth grade in Conway, and Rebecca Allessi, a second-grade teacher in Holyoke.

“These kids’ backgrounds are so different,” says Margaret Bartley, a teacher of second grade at Morgan Elementary, who helps with the program and will accompany the kids on Tuesday. “Both groups of students should have a lot to share with each other.”

In the past, Bartley says, the two groups of students have exchanged letters during the year, then met their pen pals at the end of the year. “This year, we thought, wouldn’t it be great if they could meet at the beginning of the year so they could have someone to talk to” for the rest of the program, she said.

It’s their first time meeting at Smith.

“We thought Smith would be the ideal place to meet, and it would give the children an opportunity to experience college life,” said Bartley. “We want to open doors to as many children as possible.”

For those at Smith who will guide the kids’ tours, it’s a familiar event.

“The art museum hosts school groups of varying ages almost every weekday,” says Julie Zappia, associate curator of education at the Museum of Art. “The Botanic Garden also hosts school kids.”

In addition, Smith, through the Office of Educational Outreach, coordinates several educational programs for students in the region throughout the year.

But for these elementary students from Holyoke and Conway, their visit to Smith will be anything but familiar.

“For our kids, they don’t really understand the concept of college yet,” says Bartley. “They will be so amazed by the size of the library, to see so many books, to see the research area. Some of them will remember this for the rest of their lives. Maybe some of them will be inspired to go to college.”

11/17/06   By Eric Sean Weld
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