Write On, kids
The art of letter writing is often referred to as "lost" — but in Tori Hamachek's fifth-grade classroom, it's alive and well.
The Middleton Elementary School teacher brought "Write On," a challenge started by Portland stationery company Egg Press, to her classroom in April. Students aimed to write 30 letters in 30 days, though many of them surpassed that initial goal. Egg Press donated stationery, and Hamacheck received funding for stamps through a grant.
"We first looked at the structure of a letter — how to start a letter, what kind of questions to ask, how to be kind in a letter, and what the purpose of letter-writing is," Hamacheck said. "I'm a huge fan of snail mail, so I think there's a lot of power in the written word for students."
The students wrote letters to the expected recipients: family members, former teachers, The Gazette (see Opinions Page for more), as well as more creative ones: athletes like Lebron James, Damian Lillard and Olympic gold medal gymnast Gaby Douglas; young adult authors like J.K. Rowling and Kate DiCamillo; and even a beloved family dog.
Jenna Rose chose to write five letters to patients at the Oregon Health & Science University Hospital and Randall Children's Hospital, to help brighten their days.
"I just asked questions like, 'Do you like iguanas?'" Rose said.
Kolby Stevenson wrote a letter to Central Catholic High School, inquiring as to "What's different about Central Catholic than a regular high school?"
For many students, this was the first time they had written "snail mail" that wasn't for a holiday or a thank-you card. Isabella Watson said she'd learned "how expensive letter-writing is," as stamps and stationery costs can add up.
Grace Stoffregen wrote a letter to Demi Lovato, her favorite singer. She said that through the Write On challenge, she'd learned that "letter writing is really fun and not boring, and it's important to do your best quality work with them."
Hayden Wagner, who wrote to Portland Trailblazers star Lillard, said he'd learned some technique from his teacher: explain the purpose of the letter at the beginning, and then ask your recipient some questions so that they reply with their own letter.
"I thought it was maybe not going to be the most fun," he said about letter-writing, "but then I realized it was fun."
Sophia Dirks said that she'd come to realize that letters are a bit more thoughtful than their digital counterpart.
"If you write it in an email, it takes a little less work," she said.
As April drew to a close, Hamacheck said that the challenge had helped many students "find their voice."
"While writing 30 letters, the student starts asking deeper questions and reflecting on how his or her letter recipient has impacted his or her life," she added. "My hope is for them to become lifelong letter writers."