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Fourth-Grade Pen Pal Project Builds Urban-Rural Bonds

Friday, May 11, 2018

MCS/Roxbury Pen Pal Exchange

The Manhattan Country School Pen Pal Project with Roxbury Central School has connected students for more than 30 years. The project takes advantage of the MCS Farm’s location in the town of Roxbury. It’s now become a multi-generational project, as current MCS fifth-grade student Layla (’21) and her father, Sean, have both had this experience. At Roxbury Central, several parents have expressed fond memories of being a pen pal.

The original mission of this exchange was to help fourth-grade students, from one rural and one urban school, see people beyond stereotypes. It begins in November with kids writing introductory letters to each other. Over the years, students have written physical descriptions of themselves in order for their pen pal to then create a drawing based on that description. This exercise ties directly to the creative writing process each class has been working on. They’ve also shared book recommendations and reviews and family holiday traditions.

MCS/Roxbury Pen Pal Exchange

In the spring of each year, while the MCS 9-10s are at the Farm, the children from both schools get to meet in person. One half of the MCS class goes to RCS for the day and the others spend the day at the MCS Farm. The next day the groups switch. It gives everyone a chance to live a day in the life of their pen pal. For MCS students, the Roxbury school building is a huge contrast to their own. The building hosts students from pre-K through 12th grade. The massive gymnasium, cafeteria and outdoor athletic fields and courts are quite a distinction.

MCS/Roxbury Pen Pal Exchange

A day at the MCS Farm provides a unique experience for many RCS students. One would think that living in a rural community, farming life would be common knowledge. In fact, there are very few farms left in the Roxbury area. The once-thriving dairy industry in the region has all but disappeared. For some Roxbury kids, it’s their first trip to a working farm.

In June, the RCS students, teachers and a few parents travel to New York City to spend the day at MCS. There is a tour of the MCS building, which for RCS kids is in striking contrast to their own. A trip to a museum often takes place. In the past the group visited the Museum of the City of New York because of its proximity to East 96th Street, where MCS was previously located. Now that MCS is on the Upper West Side, a trip to the American Museum of Natural History is in order. Walking through the neighborhood, playing and having a snack in Central Park, and experiencing the sights and sounds of a city are unique encounters for many people from Roxbury. For our community, it provides the chance to share a day in our life with others.