An assistant principal at Maspeth High School launched a pen pal program that encourages students to write to residents of a nearby senior living center.
Due to the pandemic, many senior living homes have closed their doors to visitors, in order to reduce spread to the most at-risk population. This has left many seniors upset that they can no longer see their families in person.
Because of this, Jesse Pachter, an assistant principal at Maspeth High School, reached out to multiple senior homes asking if they would be interested in a partnership where students would become pen pals with the elders in senior homes.
“I knew that the senior population was struggling mentally during the pandemic, specifically socially, so I thought, what a great way to do something,” Pachter said.
Many senior homes turned down the idea, saying that they couldn’t take anything from the outside despite Pachter’s promises to stay within the COVID-19 safety guidelines. When Pachter reached out to Cynthia Huggins from Castle Senior Living in Forest Hills, Huggins thought it was a wonderful idea and agreed to partner with Pachter.
“It was a wonderful suggestion. I was pleased. We do have facilities from time to time like children who make up things, Girl Scouts, schools, children, but [not] really high school students. So, that was really, really a nice surprise,” Huggins said.
Since all students in every grade level are required to take English, Pachter reached out to English teacher Stacey McDonald to see if there was a way to ask students through the English department if they were willing to make letters for Valentine’s Day. According to Pachter, there was an overwhelming turnout from the students. Some students even wrote up to five or six Valentine’s Day cards each. They look forward to writing more letters in the future with the seniors, according to Pachter.
The students at Maspeth were asked to make the letters the old fashioned way: handwritten.
“I want my students to get away from the computers. We’re trying our best to decrease the amount of screen time as possible, and this is a great way to do it. Also, the residents prefer handwritten,” Pachter said.
Huggins said she appreciated the fact that they were handwritten, because that is something the seniors can hold on to. Many of them have their letters taped to the walls or propped on their dressers so they can admire them.
The partnership kicked off on Valentine’s Day, when Pachter safely dropped Valentine’s Day cards off at the senior home. Huggins decided to surprise the seniors that day because she wanted to see their faces and reactions.
“I love surprises! And most of them, when you say, ‘I have a surprise for you,’ they’ll open the door real quick,” Huggins said.
One senior was so impressed by the craftsmanship of the letter, that she continues to look at it. Huggins recalled another senior being so excited about her letter, that she immediately wrote a letter in response, eager to start the pen pal relationship.
I was sitting in my room today thinking about Valentine’s Day, which is one of my favorite days of the year. All of a sudden, there was a knock on the door, and a beautiful lady walked in and told me to pick a card from a big bag. Guess what? I was the lucky one because I picked your card. It made me laugh and cry because it made me so happy. I taped it to my door so that everyone can see it and admire it and have a wonderful Valentine’s day too. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Happy Valentine’s Day!”
Maspeth High School mentioned the partnership with Castle Senior Living in an email to the school community and Pachter says parents were excited to hear about the initiative. One parent has a child in an elementary school and decided to pitch the idea and soon, this elementary school will be starting a pen pal program of their own with another senior home.
“Writing letters is like a long-lost art and something we are hoping to bring back to hopefully use and connect the senior citizens with high school students, and they’ll probably find out they have more in common than they ever thought,” Pachter said.