A program that pairs San Ardo School students and Aera Energy employees as pen pals brings a sense of normalcy to all as they share backgrounds, work experience and future dreams
It has been an incredibly challenging year of remote, hybrid and in-person learning for students in the fifth through seventh grades at San Ardo School. Even during that time of uncertainty, students stayed connected with their Aera Energy employee pen pals. The pairs exchanged encouraging messages and shared a sense of normalcy in a difficult time.
“There’s something about developing a thought, writing it down on paper and sending it to someone that is so special,” said Amy Ardouin, a language arts teacher at the school who helped start the program in Monterey County in partnership with Aera in the fall of 2019. “It’s different knowing they really took the time to write it.”
The 35 pairs of students and their assigned Aera employee pen pals have exchanged four sets of letters this year. Some of those student and employee pairs are communicating for their second year, giving students a chance to ask deeper questions in their letters. Students are taking more of an interest in their pen pal’s education, what they do for their jobs, and inquiring about what future opportunities might be available in the oil and gas industry, said Ardouin.
“When you’re from a small town you aren’t exposed to many opportunities outside of that small town. Having a program like this brings expanded opportunities to San Ardo,” she said.
The program has been well received by students and several seventh graders shared what they enjoyed most from the experience. Jacob saw his letters to his pen pal as an opportunity to “talk to someone,” while Kady loved sharing stories about the “amazing journeys we’ve been through.” Marylou described her pen pal as a friend, who she can “talk to through letters” and Valeria, appreciated the opportunity to get to know someone, and says the experience “can make a kid’s day.”
Next year, Ardouin hopes to expand the program to include all students in the fifth through eighth grades bringing the total to 48 student and employee pairs in the program. She also hopes next year’s students will finally meet their pen pals face-to-face at the end of the school year. That in-person event has been postponed for two years in a row due to the pandemic. Instead, some employees sent videos to accompany their last letter of the school year to students.
“The Aera pen pals were facing their own challenges in their personal lives during the pandemic with their jobs and families, yet they took the time to sit down to read and write letters to students in San Ardo. It has been such a positive experience for our students,” she said.