Fifth grade students at James Lewis Elementary in Blue Springs are connecting with their community through the written word, honing their writing skills while getting to know the individuals keeping the community running smoothly.
The school’s “Blue Pals” program was recently highlighted at a Blue Springs Board of Education meeting, where teachers and students shared what made the program special. Fifth grade teachers and creators of the Blue Pals program Amy Droege, Amanda Carey and Laura Salley also sat down to discuss how the program started and the ways it’s affected their students.
Salley said she saw a similar program at a small school in St. Louis that had partnered with local police. Salley connected with fellow teacher Amanda Carey to talk about getting started at James Lewis Elementary.
“Our hope at the time was to come up with at least three police officers who would be willing to write to the whole class and then have the class compose a letter and send it back,” Salley said.
The program ended up with over 60 adult participants writing to individual students. These pen pals were made up of employees of the Police Department, including everyone from dispatchers to evidence clerks, according to the teachers.
Each student is connected with a personal pen pal, and the program’s goal was to promote standard writing practices. Once the program started rolling, the teachers said they were surprised to see how many educational standards the program actually met.
“We didn’t really realize how broad it was going to be,” said Salley, “but when we sat down with our ELA standards – the reading and writing standards – it truly hit every standard.”
This totalled 35 fifth grade learning standards, she explained.
“Our initial goal was to give kids an authentic writing audience, rather than write a fake letter to a fake person on a fake topic,” she said.
Beyond improving their writing and communication skills, everyone agreed the students benefited beyond the classroom, students learning about new career goals and about how a city is run. Droege said many children received advice from their Blue Pals.
“We’ve read letters were they talk about hobbies and holidays and what’s coming up that they’re excited about … and they’ll share concerns, personal family issues that are going on,” she said.
Salley said the adults were “very tuned in” to what the kids needed. A Blue Pal would encourage a student showing a need for it, with a challenge to overcome obstacles as well as suggestions for how to handle situations at school and at home.
“It went way beyond letter writing,” Salley said.