Thursday, April 2, 2020
April 2, 2020

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Students meet pen pals for first time

Fifth-graders met volunteer, adult pen pals face to face

By , Columbian Education Reporter
7 Photos
Arlene Block uses a magnifying glass to read a letter from her pen pal, Aiden Krieck, a fifth-grader at Endeavour Elementary School, on Monday. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian)
Arlene Block uses a magnifying glass to read a letter from her pen pal, Aiden Krieck, a fifth-grader at Endeavour Elementary School, on Monday. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Miranda Hale, 11, and Willemina “Will” Nisoi, 79, chatted like old friends at Endeavour Elementary School on Monday afternoon.

Since October, they have been writing each other letters. But it was the first time they met face to face.

Miranda and other fifth-graders in Yulia Rogers’ and Amy Reid’s classes wrote to the volunteers to practice their writing and literacy skills in the RSVP pen pal program.

It was the first year Endeavour students took part in the program, which matches adult volunteers with fifth-graders in Evergreen Public Schools. At the end of the school year, the volunteer and student pen pals meet at a dessert social hosted by RSVP and the school.

In her last letter to Nisoi, Miranda wrote: “Thank you for your time. It was fun writing to you. I think it is cool that we have stuff in common. I like looking at birds too.”

Holding Miranda’s letter, Nisoi nodded and said: “We both like birds. We like sweet things. We love our grandmothers.”

She handed Miranda a pink pastry box from Larson’s Bakery. The girl opened the box and smiled. Inside was a cookie of a green frog holding a pink flower.

For the occasion, Nisoi had painted a streak of hot pink in her white hair.

The pen pals are separated in age by 68 years. What did they write about?

“We talked about our favorite animals,” Nisoi said. “Mine? The ruddy duck. You know the ruddy duck? It has a blue bill.”

Standing nearby, volunteer Darrin Lematta watched as the fingers of Sukhraj Singh, 11, flew over a Rubik’s Cube puzzle.

“He sent me a letter saying he can solve a Rubik’s cube in under two minutes,” Lematta said, watching the boy’s fingers. “He tells me he solves this with an algorithm. I feel inadequate now!”

Lematta brought a bakery treat in honor of Sukhraj’s recent 11th birthday, but the treat was untouched because the two were engrossed in the puzzle challenge.

“He told me he loves math and science and can’t wait to take advanced classes at Cascade Middle School next year,” Lematta said.

Volunteer pen pal Bill Baumann and Robby Elkin, 10, were talking about sports and Robby’s experience running hurdles this year. Next year in middle school, the hurdles will be taller.

“Much taller,” Robby said, showing how high he’ll have to jump to clear them.

Sometimes they write in their letters about sports. Sometimes they write about school.

“His handwriting is better than mine,” Robby said with a grin.

They found a subject that both are passionate about: Harry Potter. Robby said his parents read the first five books aloud to him, but he read the last two by himself. He admitted that he has read the books and watched the movies “a hundred times.”

Baumann, who seems to be no slouch when it comes to Harry Potter trivia, challenged: “Can you name all the horcruxes?”

Robby smiled, thought a second and began reciting a list: “The locket. Tom Riddle’s Diary. Harry…”

Soon they were talking about Robby’s schedule at middle school next year: keyboarding, Gateway to Technology, band.

“What instrument do you play?” Baumann asked.

“Trumpet,” Robby said.

“I tried to play the trumpet,” Baumann said. “I quit after two weeks.”

Robby has been playing the trumpet for three years.

“I can play all the Harry Potter songs!” he said.

As the pairs of pen pals gathered, teacher Rogers said: “It’s truly been a wonderful experience for the kids, the teachers and I hope for you as well. Thank you for taking time to write to the kids. It’s nice to put faces to the names.”

How to help

Adult volunteers are needed for the RSVP pen pal program.

To volunteer, call 360-735-3683 or email

For more information, visit

Then it was time for the adult pen pals to say goodbye. Annie Gardner was one of the last to leave Rogers’ classroom.

“Have a great summer, OK?” Gardner said, hugging her pen pal.

Walking down the hallway, Gardner added: “It’s been a fantastic experience. It’s sad that it’s ending. You get attached. They’re special. You want to know what their future holds. She’s a fantastic kid.”

This year, five schools participated in the program. Next year, RSVP pen pal organizer Steve Smith is adding another school, Burnt Bridge Creek Elementary. He will be looking for more adult volunteers to write letters to students.

It’s Gardner’s first year as a volunteer pen pal, but she added: “I will be back next year. And I’ll try to encourage others to volunteer.”