The art of letter-writing may be old-world, but it definitely helped forge brand new friendships among students from Special Education school Grace Orchard School, and primary schools Pei Chun Public School and Fairfield Methodist School (Primary).
Why did these schools go old-school in their interactions, and what did these students learn once pen hit paper? We asked.
By Lim Jun Kang
When the pen-pal project was first announced last year, students in all three schools were part-excited and part-concerned, as they were unsure about how it would be to interact with others, whom they had never seen.
What would they say? Would the others be interested to know them?
Putri Nur Shaqilah, who goes to Grace Orchard School, for students diagnosed with Mild Intellectual Disability and Mild Autism Spectrum Disorders, says, “I was nervous at first because I don’t know my pen pal. I want to be nice and say hi, but I don’t know how she will respond.”
Some students from Pei Chun and Fairfield Methodist School (Primary) were also unsure about how best to connect with their pen pals from Grace Orchard.
But all uncertainty vanished once the letters poured in - colourful cards, personal details, nuggets of information, like favourite colours and animals.
Kayen Soh, a Primary 6 student from Grace Orchard School, says “My pen-pal, Jacob from Pei Chun Public, told me his name, age, school and what he liked to do. That made me want to do the same. I replied to him and felt happy to have a pen-pal.”
Mrs Seah Li Li of Pei Chun Public School, says, “There was genuine joy, excitement and appreciation from each child when they received the notes from their pen pals, as they saw how their new friends had put in so much effort to create the hand-made or printed cards.”
Pei Chun Public School students with bookmarks and cards they received from their pen-pals at Grace Orchard on International Friendship Day.
Learning through friendships
The partnership between Grace Orchard School, Pei Chun Public and Fairfield Methodist School (Primary) started during the Covid-19 pandemic. Primary 6 students from Grace Orchard School were assigned pen pals from Pei Chun Public School, while Primary 2 students wrote to students from Fairfield Methodist School (Primary).
At Grace Orchard School, the letter-writing activity was used to teach English Language skills, be it functional writing like penmanship, or conversational skills, like how to present and introduce yourself.
Mdm Gurprit Kaur d/o Paramjee Singh, Subject Head (English) at Grace Orchard, says, “We also shared with the students that it was an opportunity to meet someone outside of their own school.”
The learning for all three schools continued as the programme expanded beyond writing cards to sending one another short videos, sharing photographs, recordings of thank-you messages, and meeting on Zoom.
“As part of our Learning for Life Programme which focuses on building social awareness and developing empathy, our students were excited to prepare a video collage of themselves with their hand-drawn posters with the guidance of their teachers.”, says Ms Michelle Yap, Head of Department (Aesthetics) at Fairfield Methodist School (Primary). “It was heart-warming to see our students think of creative ways to communicate with their pen-pals, and in the process, they thought about the needs of others.”
Understanding that their buddies at Grace Orchard School respond better to eye-catching visuals, Fairfield Methodist School (Primary) students designed customised posters with large colourful lettering using techniques they learnt in Art class.
The Fairfield Methodist School (Primary) students also created badges with encouraging messages such as “Have Faith in Yourself!”, “Be Brave!” and “You can do it!”, which were sent along with posters to their buddies at Grace Orchard School.
A poster from Fairfield Methodist School (Primary)’s students, with a customised badge to go with it.
Grace Orchard student Rizq Irsyad says, “It was fun to meet my pen pal Zyler over the Zoom call. He sent me nice drawings. I look forward to seeing him again.”
A postcard sent in response from Grace Orchard School’s students to thank their peers at Fairfield Methodist School (Primary).
For Total Defence Day, students from Pei Chun made mini booklets about the six pillars of National Defence for their peers at Grace Orchard School.
For International Friendship Day, students from Grace Orchard sent bookmarks and cards to the Pei Chun students. In return, Pei Chun put up a skit via Zoom, for Primary 6 students at Grace Orchard.
Primary 6 students at Grace Orchard School chatting with their friends from Pei Chun Public School.
Mr Wong Yek Yue, Art Co-ordinator at Fairfield Methodist School (Primary), mentioned that when some Primary 2 students observed the difficulties some of their peers at Grace Orchard had with their speech, it created “a teachable moment” on how they could encourage and help others.
“This interaction between the schools brought more than friendship – it taught students to know that everyone is different, and it taught empathy,” says Mr Wong.
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