Delaware senior citizens and fifth-grade students made old-fashioned connections this school year through literature and handwritten letters.

Delaware senior citizens and fifth-grade students made old-fashioned connections this school year through literature and handwritten letters.

A total of 110 fifth-grade Willis Intermediate School students and 54 Delaware senior citizens became pen pals this year.

Two fifth-grade students were paired with each senior and wrote three letters to their pen pal.

The local pen-pal program was started six years ago by a former Buckeye Valley teacher who moved to Delaware.

After she moved, she began to teach eighth-graders, but the program was carried on by Amber Bauer, a fifth-grade teacher.

Bauer chose a historical-fiction book for the students and seniors to read. They then wrote letters to each other to discuss the book.

The book she chose is Cynthia Kadohata's Cracker!: Best Dog in Vietnam, which is about a German shepherd who ends up assisting a soldier during the Vietnam War.

Bauer said she chose the book because the seniors would be familiar with the time period and would be able to relate that to the students.

"The kids have no frame of reference to this, so to them, it was all fiction," she said. "I had to stop and highlight parts and say, 'No, this is actually real.' "

The seniors enjoyed making connections with the students about a real-life event and sharing their thoughts with the younger generation, Bauer said.

In addition to having the students write letters, she also invited a few people to talk to students about different aspects of the book.

A world traveler shared photographs of other parts of the world; another person brought in their canine companion; and a woman whose brother served in Vietnam read letters written by her brother from the battlefront.

Some of the students were surprised by the way Vietnam veterans were treated when they returned home from the war, Bauer said.

"We are used to soldiers coming home to parades, so students were shocked to read about what really happened," she said.

Bauer organized a party May 16 for all the seniors and students to meet their pen pals.

The party was military-themed and each student was able to pose for a photo with his or her pen pal.

"The whole process for the students was great," Bauer said. "They couldn't believe a total stranger would write them a three-page letter."

She said the whole experience, from learning about history to learning how to write a formal letter, was unbelievable for her students.

"The art of letter-writing is disappearing with all the text messaging students do now," she said. "This was a great opportunity to learn the art."

The students were asked to write to their pen pals about the book, but many also shared about their lives and asked questions to get to know their pen pals.

Although the writing assignment is over, students have asked Bauer if they can continue to write their pen pals.

"It was very heartwarming to see how excited they were to get their picture taken as well as want to continue the relationship they began," she said.