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Washington Voices

Front Porch: There’s still hope for the written word

Thu., Jan. 17, 2013, midnight

The reader results are in regarding my Christmas card column. By a large majority, those who responded expressed dismay at my dismissal of annual holiday greetings. One reader enjoys using the cards as part of her Christmas decorations. Another uses them to share the Gospel message. And most who wrote eschew social media sites like Facebook.

Interestingly, all of the responses I received came via email. (Disclaimer, I haven’t checked my mailbox at The Spokesman-Review since November, so there may be a letter or – gulp! – a card, awaiting my attention.)

But I have good news for those who decried the premature death of the carefully penned note or thoughtfully chosen card. All is not lost. Recently, my seventh-grader came home from school carrying a sheaf of letters. “I got mail!” he exclaimed.

For several years, Mountainside Middle School English teacher Drew Piper has had his students participate in a “Snail Mail Relay.”

Piper’s students choose middle schools anywhere in the United States outside of Washington. This year his class sent letters to 29 states. “We see kids getting so into technology with cellphones, texting and Facebook that in many ways the art of writing is being lost,” Piper said.

Sam chose Eastmont Middle School in Sandy, Utah. Following Piper’s guidelines he introduced himself, sharing a bit about his family and his interests. Then he told about his school. “Mountainside Middle School is great, except the lockers are really hard to open at first!”

He concluded his letter with a summary of what he enjoys about Spokane. “The Spokane River runs right through our city.” Bloomsday and Hoopfest got a shout out as well.

Then it was time to address the envelope. Piper said this is a new challenge for many kids. Finally, the students mailed their letters addressed to “Attention 7th grade English Teacher,” and Piper tucked in his own letter, explaining the assignment and encouraging the teachers to have their students respond.

They mailed the letters at the end of November. When Sam returned to school after Christmas break he found six letters waiting for him.

He beamed as he read them to us at the dinner table that night. He read a letter from Anthony, who shared that at Eastmont Middle School their lockers open much faster – plus they have snack machines.

However, not all is perfect at Eastmont. Paola confided, “The one thing I don’t really like is the food, so I make my own lunch sometimes.”

Jose was blunt. “Eastmont is not the best school you can go to for Jr. High. It has too many things going on all the time. All the teachers make you learn all the time.”

Other students shared details about themselves. Mike had no shortage of self-confidence. “I am funny, tall, and have amazing friends. People love me because they say I’m so amazing and funny. How cool is that? Oh yeah, I’m also tall.”

Likewise, Danny doesn’t suffer from self-esteem issues. “I am strong, tall and tan. They say I am the best kid in the school.”

Those letters enlivened our dinnertime conversation. More importantly, they offered us a glimpse into the lives of middle school kids in Sandy, Utah. A couple of the kids asked Sam to write again.

Piper shares his students’ excitement when the letters trickle in. He said, “I hope the students understand the value of the handwritten letter. It means more than a simple text or email.”

So there you have it. If seventh-graders are learning to craft thoughtfully worded letters, and experiencing the joy of opening an envelope containing news from far-off cities, there’s hope for the written word.

Well. As long as no one makes them send Christmas cards.

Email Cindy Hval at Her previous columns are available online at columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

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