Florida 4-H pen pal program goes national
This seems like a lost art: Writing a letter using a pen or pencil and a sheet of paper. Florida 4-H youth and many of their counterparts are using this method to communicate to friends. They put it in an envelope, address the envelope, put a stamp on it and send it in the mail.
This program emerged several weeks ago when children were forced to stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Two Florida 4-H Extension agents came up with the idea of Pen Friends. It’s pretty much the same idea as pen pals, just with a different name and some lessons involved.
Kristie Popa, 4-H agent for UF/IFAS Extension Charlotte County and Tycee Prevatt, 4-H agent and director of UF/IFAS Extension Glades County created a flyer for their counties and posted it on Facebook. 4-H families from other states began seeing and sharing the flyer and signing up to participate.
“This began after we received the safer-at-home order for COVID-19,” Popa said. “We were trying to think of a way that we could connect 4-H members, while they were at home. Although we first thought they would connect with 4-H youth in Florida, we have now been able to connect youth from all over the United States, so that they can share varying 4-H experiences, talk about current events and more.”
Now, 4-H members in Charlotte, Lake, Pinellas, Sarasota, Manatee, Glades, Lee, Putnam and Okeechobee counties participate in the program.
Those children are writing to each other and to youth across the country, with youth from Florida writing to friends in 20 other states, ranging from as far north as Vermont to as far west as Wyoming. Some 250 4-H youth in Florida and across the country participate in the pen pal program, said Popa.
“In addition to connecting youth with each other, we wanted to provide a program that provided an educational component,” she said. “Our goal was for the youth participating to gain communication skills.”
For example, in addition to letter-writing, 4-H agents are teaching the children email and text etiquette.
“We thought it would be a good ice-breaker for parents and guardians to review the email etiquette and texting etiquette with the 4-H members,” Popa said.
About half the children use pen and paper; the other half use emails to keep in touch with their Pen Friends, Popa said.
Because 4-H agents teach respect, in the Pen Friends program, they encourage children not to use letters, emails and texts to bully others.
Beyond the introductory letter and the fact sheet on bullying, 4-H agents covered more specific topics about writing letters and addressing envelopes. These are tasks they were going to be completing throughout the Pen Friends program.
“This was a collaborative effort among the small group of agents on topics that we felt were related to ‘communication’ and relevant to youth today,” Popa said. “We wanted to provide information for those who were writing physical letters as well as those who were sending emails. Although the youth probably aren’t texting with their pen friends, we figured that this was an important form of communication that should be covered.”
For more information, contact Popa at email@example.com.
By: Brad Buck, 813-757-2224 (office); 352-875-2641 (cell); firstname.lastname@example.org
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