Fourth graders at Horace Mann Elementary recently got to meet and chat with the community volunteers who will serve as the students' pen pals this school year.

Barbara Freund, a retired teacher, oversees the volunteer side of the initiative for the Sedalia Area Literacy Council. She has been involved for 10 years, the first six at Washington Elementary and the past four at Horace Mann. She and the council secured more than 40 volunteers, including 14 from State Fair Community College, to serve as pen pals for the students.

Literacy Council President Betty Albrecht noted that reading and writing nonfiction text are part of the grade-level curriculum. She said the pen pal program "was just an extension of our goal of building a reader ... one book at a time. Writing the friendly letter has become a lost art."

Teachers Kathy Wingler and Karen Muntz watched as their students paired off with their pen pals and shared some background about themselves. "We use this to teach about that speaking-listening relationship," Muntz said. "They really improve on how to write letters throughout the year. ... It's a nice learning process."

Community member Rusty Ream, one of Freund's former students, has been serving as a pen pal for a few years.

"I've enjoyed meeting every kid I have had (as a pen pal), and they seem to enjoy it as well," Ream said. "It's good to have a conversation and interact with kids who are growing up in our community."

This year, the program has its youngest volunteer pen pal, Smith-Cotton High senior Ember Guthrie. She asked to be included because she remembered how much she got out of the experience when she was in fourth grade.

"I've always been interested in literacy and reading," she said. Guthrie was paired up with student Allison Scott and the two hit it off from the start. "I basically saw myself again, and it was very fun getting to know someone like that," Guthrie said.

Muntz sees many benefits from the program.

"The kids get to know people in the community and they really enjoy that," she said. "They were so excited to come down today and meet their pen pals. They also enjoy getting to meet authors, because the Literacy Council pays for them to go to the Literacy Festival at UCM," she said.

In the photo: PIC1: Community volunteer Rusty Ream, left, listens as fourth grader Luke Hayes shares a little about himself during their first meeting Oct. 3 at Horace Mann Elementary. Ream and Hayes were paired up as pen pals and will exchange letters throughout the school year.

PIC2: Fourth grader Allison Scott, left, and Smith-Cotton High senior Ember Guthrie get to know one another during the pen pals introductory meeting Oct. 3 at Horace Mann Elementary. Guthrie is the youngest community volunteer participating this year, saying she was inspired by her experience with the program when she was in elementary school.

Sedalia School District 200