Portland students pen connection with Falmouth seniors

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PORTLAND — Through letters and art projects, second-graders at Lyseth Elementary School are brightening the lives of senior citizens at a Falmouth assisted living community.

The pen pal project was the idea of teacher Linda Whittum, whose father lives at Foreside Harbor.

“When I visit Foreside Harbor and see my students’ art projects adorning the hallway or the individual rooms it brings a smile to my face (and I know) my students are making a difference,” Whittum said this week.

The students have been writing to the Foreside Harbor residents since last fall. Thanks to a grant from Painting for a Purpose, the students are now planning a field trip to meet their pen pals in person.

Whittum said soon after school started in September she began talking with her students about how “there are people in our community who are in need of some kindness. I’ve always stressed to my students (the importance of) giving to others.”

She said the students were the ones who chose to do something to help the elderly and so “adopting the residents (at Foreside Harbor) was a perfect fit.”

Whittum said improving their writing skills is one of the major benefits of the pen pal program, but “the main goal is to let (the students) believe they can make a difference” and understand that “a simple gesture, such as a letter or an art project, can brighten the life of another person.”

Overall, she wants her students to “realize the importance of small acts of kindness.”

Through the pen pal program, Whittum also hopes that her students learn some of the many values that the seniors at Foreside Harbor embody, such as responsibility, a good work ethic, faith in humanity, pride in their country and humility.

“As a classroom we have discussed these virtues and the importance of possessing them in our own lives,” she added.

As part of the visit to Foreside Harbor on May 31, Whittum said her students would be interviewing their pen pals and then writing a short biography about that senior. The visit will also include a sing-along and refreshments.

The students will create the questions they want to ask, she said, but will likely include inquiries such as, “where did you grow up, what was your occupation, did you have any children, what are your hobbies?”

The students typically send one letter a month to their senior pen pal and Whittum said they’re often eager to share the details of their daily lives.

“They will often talk about what we are learning in school, what sports they compete in or something special that they are doing with their family. They also ask a lot of questions, as they are very interested in what daily life is like for a senior citizen.”

Whittum said the writing project is “very detailed” and includes a rough draft, editing and then creating the final product, which can range from a single page to as many as six. What’s special, she said, is “all the letters are unique and individualized.”

Some of the craft projects the students have sent to their pen pals include a candy corn art decoration, a snowflake, a fluffy Valentine pet made from yarn and watercolor dinosaur eggs.

Whittum said sometimes the senior pen pal will actually mail their response back to a student and she’ll leave it on their desk for them to open. “When they enter the classroom and see an envelope on their desk, they are so excited and happy,” she said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Since last fall, second graders in Linda Whittum’s classroom at Lyseth Elementary School in Portland have been sending letters and seasonal crafts to senior pen pals at the Foreside Harbor assisted living community in Falmouth.

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