4th-grade class uses letter-writing exercise to reach out during pandemic

‘Wonderful’ project connects the young and older adult residents.

CENTERVILLE - Over the past year the pandemic has changed the way many people communicate in both their business and personal lives. Many have not seen friends and relatives in person for almost a year, especially older relatives. This is why Jennifer Karpinsky, a fourth-grade teacher at Normandy Elementary School in Centerville, decided to add an extra personal touch when teaching her remote classes how to write letters.

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Karpinsky is no stranger to these changes. Because of the pandemic, she is one of three Normandy teachers schooling 90 fourth-grade students remotely. She said she has had to get creative. She said the week the students wrote the letters (Feb. 15-19) was their “Share the Love” spirit week, and she wanted to come up with something that the virtual students could do.

She said that she decided to have the students write their letters to the residents of Social Row Transitional Care as well as St. Leonard CHI Living Communities in Centerville.

Karpinsky said she has a 93-year-old aunt at Social Row who suffers from dementia and knows from personal experience how difficult COVID-19 has been on loved ones who are in nursing homes.

“We have not been allowed to see her in person since quarantine started last March. We have tried window visits, using a phone to chat but she gets agitated because she cannot understand why we cannot come in and she cannot go out. We also do Facetime calls, but it isn’t the same. So, I thought it would be nice to write letters to residents, as many of them have also not been allowed to see loved ones.”

Karpinsky said the students were pretty enthusiastic about the project, but for a few students she had to explain what a nursing home was, why some families are unable to take care of older or ill family members, and why a nursing home may be needed.

“It was a real eye-opener for them. Because of their background and culture, they tend to keep family members home with multiple generations in the same household.”

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Jennifer Gibbs, executive director at St. Leonard’s, said she knew the residents would appreciate the letters because so much in life is digital now. She said when the governor shut down all visitation in March, hand-written letters had become a cherished gift, especially from the younger generation.

“This was a very kind gesture and the letters were thoughtful and heartfelt. Our residents appreciated hand-written letters. We have had a very difficult year due to the pandemic. Centerville is bright and cheerful, and it was a wonderful project to connect the young and older adult citizens of Centerville.”

Gibbs said some residents posted their letters on their doors and others shared with their neighbors during Happy Hour.

Other than learning the mechanics of letter-writing, Karpinsky said she hoped the children would learn to empathize with others who are going through some of the same things that they are.

“I wanted students to think about others and to be able to ‘share their love’ in a way that was accessible to them as a remote student and appropriate for the pandemic situation, while hopefully raising the spirits of the residents.”

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