The Power of Words: Our Experiences with LitPals

We’re kind of old school at the Schools Fund. We love to check our “snail mail”. Yes, it’s time to get away from our desks and take a walk in the neighborhood, but it also offers the potential for a letter from a LitPal!

LitPalsDirector of Volunteers, Ariana Cohen, and Grants and Communications Coordinator, Laura Brewer, have participated with the LitPals program for the past two years. LitPals, which is coordinated by our Berkeley Schools Volunteers (BSV) office, matches students in participating fourth or fifth grade classes with local volunteer pen pals. Handwritten letters are exchanged once a month, giving students a chance to practice their writing skills, chat about books in a casual way, and share pieces of their lives with interested adults. Those of us on the other side of the pen pal-ship love the excuse to sit down and write actual letters and hear from students in our own district.

Letters are informal; most give updates on major life events since the last letter. “What are you reading now?” always comes up. “How does your family celebrate the winter holidays?” or “Are you doing anything fun for Spring Break?” are common questions, prompting students to chat about their lives and find value in their family’s traditions and culture.

“There is something so special about getting something besides bills in the mailbox,” writes Laura. “These students are so bright; it’s always fun seeing what they find important enough to share with me. I’ve loved LitPals so much I’ve started regularly exchanging letters with my nieces!”

Ariana elaborates, “I’d wanted to be a LitPal from the moment I joined the Schools Fund 5 years ago. Having the opportunity these past 2 years has been amazing. I love hearing about the books they’re reading and the snippets of life they share. My favorite quote from this year: ‘And best of all, I still like cheese!’”

Many teachers offer an end-of-year tea party to give pen pals a chance to meet in person. This year both Ariana and Laura’s LitPals were in Ms. Sinai’s class at Berkeley Arts Magnet. They attended the party in early June, where students had prepared (memorized!) a skit about prairie life. Students were also able to “shop” for books to take with them for the summer with pen pals in toe.

“My LitPal was adorable and a great storyteller! I felt like we could have just chatted all day,” says Laura.

Ariana and Laura both plan to continue with LitPals next year. If you’re also interested in participating in this program for the next school year, please fill out our LitPals form.

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