Craig County Middle School connects with St. Louis through Pen Pals

Pam Dudding-Burch
Contributing writer

Letters went back and forth between New Castle students and St. Louis students in a special Pen Pal project in Melisa Whiting’s class.

For many students in Craig, hearing about and watching St. Louis Cardinals baseball games are a ‘norm’ in their homes with their parents and grandparents. However, for students in St. Louis to hear about students living on Craig County’s huge mountains and ‘growing big animals’, well…. that is a different story.

Melissa Whiting has a tendency to bring creativity to her classroom, no matter what grade she teaches. Moving from McCleary Elementary last year to McCleary Middle School this year, she continues on the same avenue to keep her students thoroughly interested.

“I have just completed a wonderful project with 21 of my middle school students,” Whiting shared. “We have paired with a group of middle school students in St. Louis, Missouri, for a Pen Pal Project.”

The principal of the school is a good friend of one of her sorority sisters. “They assisted me in organizing the project, which we started in February,” she added.

Tia Leach was the coordinating teacher in St. Louis. She and Whiting randomly paired the students. “Their first letters were written anonymously but soon most of the children became good friends with their Pen Pals,” Whiting explained.

Craig County students wrote stories about the mountains, hunting, fishing and their small school district. The St. Louis students were amazed about farm life, living in the mountains and beach vacations. “One asked, “Do you live ON a mountain, or IN a mountain?” Whiting said. “My students were surprised that these Midwesterners couldn’t picture mountains or raising large animals.”

Melissa Whiting, a teacher for Craig County Middle School, created an opportunity for her students to connect with students in St. Louis (MO) to learn about different cultures.

The St. Louis students wrote stories of living in a large city, attending St. Louis Cardinal baseball games and their large multi-storied school with over 1000 middle school students. Whiting’s students were interested in the size of their school (which has an elevator) and their urban life. “We watched videos of the construction of the Gateway Arch after reading about it in several letters,” Whiting explained. “It was an incredible experience for both groups.”

Many students have plans to continue corresponding with their Pen Pals. With their parental permission, they have shared phone numbers and information via social media. “Many of them have already formed close friendships and I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing their stories,” Whiting shared.

The activity concluded the week of May 22 as they sent the students informational literature about Craig County and Virginia. “We also sent the class a wide assortment of Virginia peanuts and student photos. Each student received a large colorful Virginia magnet,” Whiting said. “We are waiting for the final letters from our St. Louis Pen Pals who have also sent us mementos from the state of Missouri.”

Leach shared that her students loved the different flavored peanuts that Whiting’s class sent and also the Virginia magnets. “The eighth grade history teachers are jealous because they teach early American History and Virginia plays a huge role,” said Leach.

The project was made possible through a generous donation from citizens of Craig, Mr. and Mrs. Gary Greene.  Their funds paid for all postage, printed materials and the Virginia gifts. “Having members of the community support our students with projects such as this enables our educators to provide extra-curricular instruction to the students of Craig County,” Whiting concluded.

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