A letter is better

Think about your mailbox. When was the last time you received a letter? Magazines, bills, business promotions, and newsletters do not count, just a genuine personal letter from a friend, sister, brother, cousin, old classmate, or neighbor. Been a while? How about the last time you sent one yourself?

We live in an age of technology where it takes us literally seconds to contact each other. There’s email, Facebook, twitter, instant messaging services, and texting; we all have our go to sites and gadgets. However, while we are losing the seconds it takes to contact someone, are we also losing the seconds or minutes where we actually think about what we are saying? Kevin Blackford, the postmaster in Stuarts Draft, feels that we are and has decided to do something about it.

Four years ago, Blackford decided to start the A Letter is Better program, along with the help of the Stuarts Draft Ruritans Club. The idea it is to give students in grades K-8 the opportunity in a classroom setting to write and send a handwritten letter to a close friend or family member. Blackford’s attempt to bring back the art of letter writing has already involved over 3,000 students in elementary schools in the area. Previous schools involved in the program include Verona Elementary and Guy K. Stump Elementary.

Stuarts Draft Elementary was the school selected this year for participation; the school choosing to run the program school-wide, rather than just to a specific grade or class, as some schools have done in the past. “We have 603 students here; he supplied each student with a prepaid envelope,” assistant principal Patty Black explained, “Each child in the building, preschool through 5, has written a letter to a person of their choice.”

Along with Blackford, Black agrees that the younger generation needs to understand the value of communication. “I think that writing a letter is very personal. So instead of quick text message or email, I think the whole thought of deciding who you are going to write to and why it is that you want to write to them and actually then taking the time to write it down on paper makes it a very personal experience. I did have the opportunity to read a variety of letters that teachers have brought to me after they read them and even our preschool students have really important things to say to the people that they chose.”

As expected, the style of writing and the letter recipients varied according to age and circumstances of the student. Blackford stating off past experiences that, “it’s interesting to see how the interest changes depending on the age. For the very little ones, all the letters go to mom. As they get older, we’ve seen them include dad. By the time they’re in fifth grade they’re thinking about their grandparents and friends.” Examples were shown of some of the pre-k letters, showing simple drawings and either short words the students had thrown together, or sentences that had been dictated by a teacher for the students. “When you do it every year, it’s neat to watch the progression of the students’ writing.”

Black wanted to allow the students to have a choice in who their letters went to and confided that some of the results even surprised her. “We have students here who chose to write to their parents, students who chose to write to classmates that moved away that they have stayed in touch with, we have one student who is having some major health issues and he actually chose to write to his primary care physician. Some chose to send letters to grandparents; we have one child who wrote a letter to be mailed out to Mexico because he has family there. So it is completely student choice.”

Mr. Crowder, a first-year second-grade teacher, felt that the program provided an opportunity for him to teach his students more about writing structure. “I felt it was a good experience for our class because we learned the five parts of a friendly letter.” He continued by saying that all of the students used the school’s address as the return address so that the students could read to the class any responses they receive.

The Stuarts Draft Elementary administration has expressed an interest in making A Letter is Better an annual event for the entire school, and hope that the students will continue their written correspondences either through the school or at home. Blackford himself would like to expand the program into more middle schools, as well as other schools in Waynesboro and Augusta County.

With 603 students writing letters, the cost of postage is about $250, but all of this money is donated by the Stuarts Draft Ruritans Clubs; as they have done every year and for each school. “Cost is a factor, but the impact is worth it because 600 kids writing to 600 people, that over 1,000 people affected by the simple act of writing,” Blackford proclaimed with a smile.

Story by Suzi Foltz. Suzi is an intern with AugustaFreePress.com and a senior at Wilson Memorial High School.

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