Both Austin Murray and Gavin Davis had never had pen pals before participating in their respective schools' All School Read program.
This year sixth graders from Burns Middle School, Owensboro Innovation Middle School and Owensboro Middle School each participated in the All School Read program, in which they all read the same book, "Same Sun Here," by Kentucky writer Silas House and Neela Vaswani.
The book centers around two main characters who are pen pals, which is where educators came up with the idea to create a pen pal network of middle school students across Owensboro and Daviess County school districts.
The project culminated with the student pen pals meeting Monday for the first time, discussing the book and the project.
Austin, an 11-year-old BMS student, said he enjoyed both the book and the pen pal project. He and his pen pal, Gavin, have the same interests, like video games and band.
"I thought the project was fun," Austin said. "It let me try out something new because I'd never had a pen pal before."
Gavin, a 12-year-old iMiddle student, said the two wrote about five letters to one another throughout the project. He was nervous to meet Austin at first, but once they got to talking "it was chill," he said.
"He's a friend of mine now," he said. "It was to get to know each other through writing letters. It was really cool to meet someone new that is not far away, but in a different district from ours."
Elizabeth Muster, Burns Middle School library media specialist, said the school, which has been doing the program since 2007, continues to support the program each year because it has proven to be a community-builder and strengthens literacy by allowing schoolwide discussions around one book.
Amy Bellamy, OPS literacy coach, said iMiddle and Owensboro Middle School students were excited to read the book and equally as excited to write letters to their pen pals at Burns Middle School. She was interested in pursuing this project with sixth grade students because it would be an "authentic audience" for them.
She and Muster debated having students write emails to one another, versus hand-written letters, but opted for letters because "it's a little more special."
Muster hopes to expand the program into the community. By speaking with other school library media specialists within DCPS and OPS, she learned there is a lot of interest in the projects, and others that are similar.
There is no better way to build a community of literacy than everyone reading the same book at the same time, Muster said. That, however, costs money.
For more information about how to contribute or participate in this reading program, contact Muster at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bobbie Hayse, email@example.com, 270-691-7315.