Delaware News

Cuban Missile Crisis, letters unite students, senior citizens

Delaware pen pals read book together; seniors share their memories of 1960s

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Delaware City School District fifth-grade students and senior citizens are getting to know each other through the power of the pen.

More than 100 fifth-graders and 50 seniors have become pen pals over the past five months. The seniors and students exchanged three letters about a book they were reading together.

Fifth-grade teacher Amber Bauer chose the book Countdown by Deborah Wiles, which focuses on a 10-year-old girl who grew up during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Bauer used Connections Volunteer Center to recruit the seniors. Some had volunteered for last year's pen pal program, but others were first-timers, she said.

Some seniors volunteered for one-on-one reading intervention with the students, and some even shared their experiences of growing up in the 1960s.

"One of the seniors brought in her diary from 1962, when she was 10 years old, which was the same age as the character in the book," Bauer said.

"She read out of the diary, showed photographs and her school picture, and the students really got a feel for what it would have been like in school at that time."

Bauer said she chose the book because she wanted the seniors to be able to share their experiences with students and for students to learn to separate what they read into fact and fiction.

"Since they don't have a lot of life experiences, they can't read something and know which parts the author made up and which parts are real," she said, "but talking to someone who has lived through it, they can see that these things really happened."

Bauer said some of the seniors were adults during the 1960s and remember many details; others were young but can recall preparing for an air-raid by ducking and covering.

"We even had one senior who was a teacher who wrote about doing drills with their class of students during that time," she said.

As part of the state's Common Core requirements, students must learn how to communicate ideas by collecting information from several sources and putting it into their own writing.

Students read the book; watched videos from the time period, including President John F. Kennedy's address on the Cuban Missile Crisis; looked at photographs from the time; and read newspaper articles.

"The letters they were writing to the seniors were them putting all of these things together," Bauer said. "They were communicating about something they had been studying."

She said with today's technology, some students had never even written a letter, and some had trouble reading the cursive, handwritten letters they received from their senior pen pals.

Bauer said the letters were a great way for students to cover parts of the Common Core, as well as an opportunity for seniors to share their experiences and interact with children.

"It's a neat way for seniors to affect the future of our students by making connections with these kids," she said.

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