Monday, January 17, 2022

A letter in waiting: A Norge third grader’s quest to find her pen pal during a pandemic

Brynn Larson, 9, had been upset when she wasn't able to write her pen pal after schools closed in response to the coronavirus. But thanks to help from her mother and social media, her letters are being seen. (WYDaily/Courtesy Erin Larson)
Brynn Larson, 9, had been upset when she wasn’t able to write her pen pal after schools closed in response to the coronavirus. But thanks to help from her mother and social media, her letters are being seen. (WYDaily/Courtesy Erin Larson)

With the ink of her gel pen dried on the paper, 9-year-old Brynn Larson found herself staring at a carefully-crafted pen pal letter that might never be sent.

Brynn had worked hard on her letter to her pen pal but once the coronavirus pandemic caused schools to close for the remainder of the year, she was worried her words would never be read.

As a third grade student at Norge Elementary School, Brynn was participating in a new pen pal program that sent letters between Lea Ann Colbentz’s class and students in the Warhill High School English Honor Society. 

The program started in December when Coblentz’s daughter, who is involved in the club, suggested doing pen pals as a way for the club to connect with the community. 

“I thought it was a wonderful idea because we were already working on our friendly letter-writing skills,” Coblentz said. 

Warhill students would write letters each month to third graders, asking about their hobbies, school and books they were reading. Then the third graders would voraciously respond, sometimes using gel pens to write in their favorite color.

The new activity started to become particularly exciting for Brynn, who loved to read and write, Coblentz said.

But when schools closed on March 13, Brynn wasn’t in class so she never had the chance to send her final letter.

“She was really disappointed because she had been working really hard on it,” said Erin Larson, Brynn’s mother. “At that grade level she wanted to impress the older students, so she was using her best hand writing and sentence structure. But then she felt like it was all for nothing.”

Seeing her daughter’s disappointment, Erin took to social media and posted on the Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools Parents & Community Facebook page looking for her daughter’s pen pal recipient, Anica Myers.

Not long after, multiple people commented on the post and eventually connected Erin with Anica’s mother, who was able to help bridge the connection between the two students.

“It was nice to know that I’ve had an impact in someone’s life and that I can act as a role model for someone so young,” Myers said. “Kids just aren’t on their phone all the time, they’re engaged in school and learning.”

Prior to the school closures, Brynn Larson and high school senior, Anica Myers, had been writing each other each month. (WYDaily/Courtesy Erin Larson)
Prior to the school closures, Brynn Larson and high school senior, Anica Myers, had been writing each other each month. (WYDaily/Courtesy Erin Larson)

Myers, a senior at Warhill High School and president of the English National Honor Society, said she saw a lot of herself in Brynn once they started writing letters back and forth. At just 9 years old, Brynn has expressed a passion for language and writing that Myers said she hopes to encourage as an older role model.

“These students are really looking up to them,” Coblentz said. “Just having that relationship with an older person is valuable and gives them something to look forward to.”

But the experience has become important to Myers, too. In recent letters, she said Brynn has been writing about how she misses her friends and how online classes are hard and that’s an experience both students are sharing.

Now that the coronavirus has caused many students to be detached from their friends, Erin said she’s happy she was able to provide this outlet for her daughter. 

Erin said the experience is also particularly important because it makes her daughter feel special and encourages her to write. 

“Most kids don’t realize they need that structure of everyday schooling and there’s been zero structure in this unprecedented time,” Erin said. “It means a lot because she’s able to do something productive for school.”

No longer is Brynn writing using old fashion pen and paper. To prevent any physical contact, Brynn is sending emails to Myers instead of letters.

The plus side? Now she can attach pictures of her dogs.

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Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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