South Allegheny pen-pal project targets lost art of letter writing

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Despite what the electronic age has led them to believe about must-have instant connections via email, text messaging and social media, some South Allegheny students have discovered speed is not always better.

And, in the process, they may have rejuvenated a lost art.

"When you write letters, you think more about what you want to say, so it is more meaningful than quick-paced texting or email," said Logan Ostrander, 12, of Liberty.

"I like the anticipation of receiving the next letter, something you can keep,'' said Ava Kepple, 11, of Glassport.

"You only have one opportunity to get across what you have to say, so you must really focus and think it out," Falco Muscante, 15, of Lincoln said of old-fashioned handwritten letters.

Elementary school band members who were pencil-and-pen pals with high school band members during the past year came together Friday for a picnic at South Allegheny High School in honor of National Pen Pal Day," celebrated nationally on June 1.

The student pen pals -- the term for people who exchange letters, often with someone they have never met -- shared their letters while discussing what they learned from the experience. It was not their first face-to-face meeting. The pen pals sat together during fall's homecoming football game, during which the older students helped the younger ones play cheer music.

Elementary school band director Karen Kadar came up with the idea to pair 65 sixth-graders in the elementary band with members of the high school band.

She said she paired students up by personality and musical instrument.

"It is a nice transition between elementary and high school and let the younger kids feel part of a bigger organization," she said.

"The high school band is always very visible, while the elementary school band is not. I wanted them to know that those kids in the high school band started in elementary," Ms. Kadar said.

Falco exchanged a half dozen letters with fellow saxophonist Elijah Webb in which he described the high school's concert, marching and jazz bands.

"I learned what is going on in a sixth-grader's mind and made friends. It will be fun because when I am a senior, Elijah will be a freshman and we will be in the same band," he said.

Lauren DiLuca, 16, who was paired with clarinet players Carissa Mayernik and Leanna Pellegrino, offered them this advice: "Be prepared and try your best because band is a lot of hard work."

"I also told them if you find things in common with people, you will likely be able to make friends with them," said Lauren, of Liberty.

Ava, who is a flutist, said she learned from pen pal Stephanie Safran about being successful in her high school studies.

"She told me to make sure I always have my books and don't forget anything," Ava said.

Logan, who plays percussion instruments, was thinking of dropping band until pen pal Nick Hawkins reignited his musical fire with discussion of the different types of high school bands.

It was also the first time Logan wrote a letter.

"It was a lot of fun," he said of the experience.

Ms. Kadar said besides forging useful bonds, she hopes the activity reignites the art of letter writing for today's instant communication generation.

"They were so excited waiting for the letters." she said.


Margaret Smykla, freelance writer:


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