Young students learn letter writing through “Scorpion Mail”

Students at Elizabeth Scott Elementary School know that the scorpions crawling on the school mailbox won’t sting; in a similar way, some trust that writing may not be one of the worst things to experience in the world – like getting stung by a poisonous creature.

In her 16-year teaching career, Maria DiSanto, now a first-grade teacher at Elizabeth Scott, has noticed a pattern in how her students respond to writing assignments. To her, students this young aren’t able to fully understand the importance of developing writing skills or the need to prepare for the writing SOLs in second and fourth grade; therefore, to them, writing is seen as a chore.

“It’s laborious for them,” she said, in her fourth year at the school. “They don’t see the reason for writing, especially with assigned prompts that have no relationship to their life.”

Two years ago, DiSanto found a way for students at the school to get excited about writing and started “Scorpion Mail” – an optional, letter-exchanging system designed to encourage students to write more frequently. Named after the school’s mascot, the scorpion, the system offers students of all grade levels the choice of writing letters to people.

“They love to write each other, so why not have them write letters?” she said.

DiSanto borrowed the system from Harrowgate Elementary, where it was a success. It works like this: once they are taught the correct form of addressing a letter, students have the choice to write a weekly letter to anyone in the school they wish – students or school staff members. Letters are then placed in the mailbox and are later sorted by the classroom to which they are addressed.

A non-mandatory option for students visiting the Writing Center, the mail system gives students a real authentic reason to write, according to DiSanto.

However, since the explosion of “Scorpion Mail”, many students attending the school no longer consider “writing” a dirty word.  Now, many kids frequently write letters, sending them off each Thursday.

“I think it has made a difference,” she said. “… I think the incentive is looking for that letter to come back.”

Each week Debbie Brittle, the school’s secretary for the past four years, sees how exactly the mail system works at Elizabeth Scott.  Since her desk faces the school mailbox, which is less than 20 or so feet away from the main office, she sees firsthand its impact on the  young students.

“I do feel like it’s benefitting the kids,” said Brittle. “I think it gives them a motivation to want to write.”

Brittle herself has received a couple letters through “Scorpion Mail”, and from her classroom experience through doing “Small Group” with a short-staffed class, she is making friendships with the young students by responding to their letters.

 “I know writing’s really tough; the teachers talk about how hard it is to pull stuff out of kids,” said Brittle. “If we can give them an avenue to be able to do that in a fun way, I think it’s good.”

According to DiSanto, “Scorpion Mail” is here to stay and will continue as a tradition at Elizabeth Scott Elementary School.

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