Inside Aera
People of Aera, Community Sep 18, 2019

‘Dear Aera’: A pen pal program returns to San Ardo School

Thomas Mansfield poses with his Aera pen pal Lisa McAlister when he was a student at San Ardo School. More recently, Mansfield has crossed paths again with McAlister at Aera, where both are employees.

When Thomas Mansfield was a fifth-grade student at San Ardo School, he took part in a pen-pal program that allowed his class to exchange letters with Aera employees.

Now Mansfield is once again participating in a pen-pal program between Aera and his hometown elementary school. Only now, he’s taking part as an Aera employee.

Today, Mansfield is a reliability specialist at the San Ardo oil field. But he’s never forgotten how that letter-writing experience, and the long-ago field trip his class took to Aera’s offices in Bakersfield, opened his eyes to the career possibilities beyond agriculture.

Aera and San Ardo School are reviving the pen-pal program this month after a decade-long hiatus.

“During a springtime campus improvement project, students worked side by side with our employees,” said Aera’s Kathy Miller, who’s spearheading the pen-pal program with co-worker Jennifer Valdez. “We could all see the power of that adult-student connection, and the pen-pal program will help keep that going.”

Each of the 22 students in teacher Amy Ardouin’s combined fifth- and sixth-grade class will be paired with an Aera employee. Pen pals will write each other about monthly until May. Only handwritten letters will be exchanged.

One of the program’s goals is to practice literacy and communication skills. No texting language like “u r” and “LOL” will be allowed.

“That’s a habit we’re trying to get students to break,” Ardouin said.

Aera and the school hope the one-on-one link with Aera employees will build students’ connection to the outside world, boost their confidence levels, expose them to various career opportunities and encourage them to pursue their education.

San Ardo is a town of 500 people in southern Monterey County. It’s mostly rural, ag-based and Hispanic. The school district has only 100 kindergarten through eighth-grade students and five teachers. Eighty-six percent of students have limited English proficiency.

“Most of them have no concept of the variety and levels of job opportunities,” Ardouin said. “We’re hoping they can build relationships with adults who have careers and get to know what life is like in those jobs.”

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