Cole Ross, Chapter Advisor at Etowah High School in Woodstock, GA, was awarded an Advisor Grant of $350 to attend the National Council of Teachers of English convention in November 2022. Ross and colleagues presented a session detailing the results of his chapter’s ongoing work with their Pen Pal Project with local elementary feeder schools.
The NEHS Advisor Grant covered the cost of my registration to the National Council of Teachers of English, as well as some of the traveling costs. I have been a Co-Advisor of an NEHS Chapter for three years, and I started focusing on our Pen Pal Program last year. This year, I, along with Heather Barton and Robyn Coggins, the other Co-Advisors at Etowah, was invited to present at this conference. Our topic was “Bridging the Literary Gap by Building Community Engagement through Student Writing Exchanges.” As hinted in the title, we want to grow literacy rates. What better way to increase these rates than by having an authentic audience?
We have three main goals for this program.
- Increase Literacy Rates
- Build Zone Relationships
- Help other schools create an NEHS Chapter
In our program, we have our NEHS Chapter, along with other clubs, organizations, and classes, write pen pal letters to around 600 elementary and middle school students. A few years ago, we only had one feeder school of about 100 students, and today, we have 4 schools with 600 students. This program is growing in popular demand. In our area, only 50% of the schools have NEHS chapters, so we are working hard to establish pen pal relationships with schools outside our zone. Currently, our biggest school relationship is on the opposite end of our district.
Like any program, we have had some glows and growth. We have had to make some adjustments, and we have been able to set some things in stone. We are a growing program, and we have even grown since our presentation. For our chapter, we have a strong student leadership team, and we created a pen pal committee that solely focuses on making sure the whole process is smooth. This team has an incoming and outgoing checklist. We have another organization, Key Club, that reads all the letters to make sure they are accessible and appropriate for our little friends. Since we run the Pen Pal Program through NEHS members, it is a requirement for our members to have two pen pals. Our school newspaper, along with my classes, Heather’s classes, and another colleague’s classes help cover the rest. We have other colleagues willing to help when we grow again.
As for the convention, I was not only able to share what I am doing in the English world, but I was also able to sit and learn from so many other amazing educators. I have already started building plans for new ideas to build in my curriculum during the next semester, and I am excited to work with colleagues to make our curriculum better for our students and communities. We also connected with Dave Wendelin, the then NEHS Director, and share what we are doing with our program. It was so nice to hear about his vision and hopes for our program and other programs.
My favorite part of the convention was not getting on my first plane ride ever to literally go across the country (though that was quite the experience). My favorite part was that in our session, a Pen Pal Program was created for two schools in California, and we have already had many people tell us that they plan on taking it back to their home school. We hope that our presentation was powerful and impactful, and we would love to talk to you about starting pen pals or a similar program. Please feel free to contact us on Instagram (@drheatherbarton, @mrsrobyncoggins, and @mrjcoleross) or Twitter (@drheatherbarton and @mrjcoleross).
NEHS Advisor Grants
NEHS believes in educators and wishes to support them, particularly those who are willing to add even more to the stresses of 21st century education by willingly serving as NEHS Advisors. Advisors are encouraged to apply for these new grants that are intended to supplement other funding sources. Grants must be used to enhance the teaching and learning of the English language arts that will also directly impact leadership effectiveness for NEHS chapters.
Applications for Advisor Grants of up to $350 are accepted throughout the school year.