By JOANA SALIEVSKA
Residents of Montgomery Place visited the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools’ Shapiro Hall, 5800 S. Stony Island Ave., May 30 to meet their second grade pen pals.
In February, Ted Ratliff, second grade teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, organized a pen pal project for his students. His goal was to help his students develop their writing skills through an authentic and meaningful project. He also wanted his students to engage with the local community.
Stacy Marienthal, a counselor at the Lab school, had the idea to do a project with Montgomery Place since the senior living and retirement community was nearby, said Ratliff.
After speaking with Marienthal and another colleague at Lab, who had done a pen pal biography project when she was in third grade, Ratliff began to organize the project by visiting Montgomery Place in search of pen pals for his 8-year-old students.
Initially, Ratliff had a hard time arousing interest among the residents at Montgomery Place so he tried a different approach.
“We ended up taking a couple of students from our classroom after school one day to speak at one of their town hall meetings and we ended up getting enough participation to make the project work,” said Ratliff.
Shortly after that meeting, 23 second graders were grouped with 11 Montgomery residents. There were 10 groups of two students with one senior and one group of three students with one senior. Once the groups were set, the students began writing.
After the students learned more about their pen pals through letter writing, they drafted, revised and published short biographies about their new friends, which allowed them to refine their formal writing skills. They each read their biographies to the class and the Montgomery Place participants who came to Shapiro Hall for the presentation.
“I really liked the speech part because I got to talk in the microphone,” said second grader Marley Rudbeck.
Rudbeck and Mila Bhatoey-Bertrand worked together to write their biographies about Marcia Frank. Frank was excited to participate in the project and was grateful that the girls were interested in her life.
“I think they’ll maybe understand about age,” said Frank. “All old people are not senile. They can still carry on a conversation. They are interesting.”
Shanta Monippallil, a retired family medicine doctor, also said she had a really great time.
“They treated me like a queen,” she said referring to her pen pals Shivan Sachdev and Jaiden Dhawan. Sachdev enjoyed learning about Monippallil’s love of chess, a game he plays with his dad, grandpa, and uncle. Dhawan loved the writing.
“It’s just like fun to write even though the spelling was a little bit hard,” Dhawan said.
Now that the project “has come to fruition it has gained more and more momentum,” the students just got “more and more excited,” said Ratliff.
Ratliff is grateful for Montgomery Place residents helping Lab students improve their writing skills and build meaningful relationships.
“I don’t know if they realize how big of a service it was for our students to use this real world experience to work on their academic skills,” Ratliff said. “These kids are way more well behaved when they’re here and around their pen pals. They understand that this is a situation in which they want to put their best foot forward because they are really invested emotionally. I think the relationship creating process with all of this is what made it really special.”