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‘Project Pen Pal’ allows Agawam students to learn by writing freely

Date: 6/15/2021

AGAWAM – The Agawam School Committee met on June 8 for a presentation on an elementary school pen pal project and to honor upcoming retirees.

To begin, Superintendent Sheila Hoffman introduced two teachers, Celeste Basile, fourth grade teacher at James Clark, and Kathleen Jediny, fifth grade teacher at Roberta G. Doering, the  creators of “Project Pen Pal.”

The project began when Basile left Clark and moved to Doering. Both of the teachers emphasized their passion for writing and their hope of encouraging students to enjoy it as well.

Jediny explained, this project isn’t something that is graded or even looked at.

“A lot of times, I think people feel like you have to grade writing and correct it, and it turns students off.” Rather than pointing out every mistake, the two teachers thought it would be better to allow their students to write freely.

Jediny said the students were very enthusiastic about this project and looked forward to communicating with their new pals.  

Basile said, “We wanted to bring back the lost art of letter writing.”

She added, in her experience of working as a fourth grade teacher previously at Doering, she could see the fear in students’ faces when they were going into middle school.

In the future, Basile hopes that when the fourth graders go and tour the middle school, they would be able to meet their pen pal, make a friend and feel more comfortable about the change.  They believe this is only positive for the students, and hope other classes and schools will partake in this as well.

School Committee members expressed that they thought this was a wonderful idea, especially right now as social interaction has been limited. In addition, members stated they believed the students are learning communication skills, penmanship and even kindness.

Following their presentation, Mayor William Sapelli said they typically recognize the retirees during the meeting, however, due to the pandemic, they were unable to do so in person. Hoffman said, “We hope this is our second and last time that we are honoring our retirees through a video presentation.”

The video began with a message from Superintendent Hoffman: “Congratulations to all of our retirees. The impact of the years of service you gave to the Agawam Public Schools will be felt for years to come. Thank you for your tireless commitment to your students and your contributions to our school system. Enjoy the time ahead in whichever direction it takes you. I wish you good health and many fun adventures.”

Retirees are as follows:
• Granger School – Nany O’Keefe, grade 1, 32 years of service; Patricia Belisle, reading recovery teacher, 19 years of service.
• Robinson Park – Louise Escobar, paraprofessional, 13 years of service.
• Doering School – Teresa Holl, grade 6, 23 years of service; Patricia Urban, grade 6 special education, 21 years of service; Stephanie Pellegrini, secretary to assistant principal, 11 years of service; Susan Smith, grade 5, 21 years of service; Susan Federico, principal, 24 years of service.
• Agawam Junior High School – Paula Montagna, guidance secretary, 29 years of service; Janice Truelove, principal’s secretary, 22 years of service; Sandra Johnson, grade 7 STEM, 14 years of service.
• Agawam High School – Elaine Mokrzycki, librarian, 21 years of service; Susan Schoenberger, assistant principal, 14 years of service.
• James Clark School – Diane Donah, Kindergarten, 13 years of service; Cheryl MacFadzen, grade 3, 19 years of service; Linda DeGray, title 1, 23 years of service; Shelley Russell, principal, 16 years of service.

Hoffman recognized the 259 graduating seniors and everyone who was involved in the ceremony. “The student speakers were excellent and the team at the high school worked extremely hard to ensure it was a very special outdoor event for everyone who attended.”

The last day of school is June 17, which will be a half day for students and staff.

Students in grades one through 12 will return to the first day of classes on Sept. 7. Kindergarten and preschool students will return for their first day of school on Sept. 9.

Hoffman said, “We hope that students and staff will rest, relax and enjoy the summer months, and be ready to start a new school year in September.”