Fourth-grade students and Saugus senior citizens share a personal connection through a letter-writing project
Judah Bida was thrilled to talk about his new friend John, a 64-year-old Saugus resident who’s planning a 3,000-mile bicycle trip to Seattle, Washington. Maya Vrankic seemed just as excited sharing what she knew about Donna, the 77-year-old town resident who went to medical school and who loves walking on the local bike trail. Every one of the 22 students in Brigitte Vaudo’s Fourth Grade Class at the Belmonte STEAM Academy has some interesting stories to share about the senior citizens they have befriended through “The Student and Senior Pen Pal Project” – a special program that pairs up a student with a senior.
“It’s really a great project that brings the town and the school together,” Vaudo said this week during a class where students shared stories about the senior citizens they are corresponding with. “These seniors are such good role models who have a positive influence on the students,” she said.
Vaudo is overseeing the program that also involves students from three other Fourth Grade classes. But she credits Cheryl Roberto, an outreach worker at the Saugus Senior Center, who wanted to bring back the pen pal program the center once administered. “I developed the program and increased the number of kids, but it really was Cheryl’s idea to get this project going,” she said.
Now in her third year in Saugus Public Schools, Vaudo has spent 24 years as an educator – all of it as a fourth grade teacher. Vaudo loves innovative and interactive student projects. Last spring, she initiated a class project titled “What Makes Our Community Special? The History and Heroes of Saugus.”
The Pen Pal Project has grown from 10 to 80 students since its inception in September. Vaudo’s personal goal is to expand the program to all of the 200-plus fourth grade students at the Belmonte STEAM Academy.
The seniors and students exchange letters once a month. A special mail box sets at the front of Vaudo’s classroom for students to place their outgoing letters, which are dropped off at the Senior Center when the seniors’ letters are picked up.
The major aim of the program, according to Vaudo, is to help students develop real-life writing skills and build meaningful connections within the community and bridge the generation gap.
“We get to learn about new words to include in our writing,” fourth grader Paisleigh Rogers said.
Many of Paisleigh’s classmates say they love receiving mail and learning new things about their hometown from people who have lived here for years. Bailey Trabucco, like a few students, said she got creative and included a drawing with her letter. “I learned that the pen pals are very nice people,” Bailey said.
“Some of these people probably don’t have any family and need somebody to talk to. We feel happy when we get our letters, so they must feel happy, too,” she said.
Vaudo said she agrees that becoming a pen pal with a student can enable a senior to develop a relationship to alleviate loneliness or boredom. Other benefits to seniors include an opportunity to contribute as active members of their community in a purposeful activity and the chance to share lifetime experiences with a younger generation.
At the conclusion of the project some time next spring, the students will get a chance to meet their pen pals. “The Senior Center is planning an event for us. There’s going to be a celebration” she said.
“It will be a special celebration for the seniors as well as the students,” she said.
Meanwhile, Vaudo continues her invitations to fourth grade students and Saugus senior citizens who might be interested in participating in the Student and Senior Pen Pal Project. Saugus adults or seniors who like to stay connected and enjoy interacting with the younger generation can sign up to be a senior pen pal and exchange letters with a student. For more information or to sign up as a pen pal, please contact Cheryl Roberto at the Senior Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or Brigitte Vaudo at Belmonte STEAM Academy at