Pen Pal Power

Pen Pal Power

 PenpalsSome of the best writing that Quinlan O’Grady did during her freshman year at Saint Mary’s wasn’t for a class—it was the weekly letters she wrote to Deja Glenn, a fourth grader at Marquette Primary Center in South Bend.

Quinlan and Deja participated in a pen pal program sponsored by the Office for Civil and Social Engagement that paired 24 Saint Mary’s mentors with fourth grade girls at Marquette. The pairs exchanged letters for a semester before meeting on campus for the first time in May. As they wrote, Quinlan says, “we talked about our lives, our families, and all our favorite things. When we finally got to meet, I felt that I knew Deja already, and I think she felt comfortable with me.”

Marquette Primary Center is less than ten minutes from Saint Mary’s, but in many ways it’s a world apart. Most of the students are from low-income families and few continue their education past high school. Before visiting Saint Mary’s, most of the girls in the pen pal program had never set foot on a college campus.

The program aims to show them that college is within their reach. At Saint Mary’s, they visited dorms and classrooms, ate lunch in the dining hall, and played games on the library green with their pen pals. “It was a really big deal, and it made them start asking a lot more questions about college,” said Megan Osberger, a 2007 graduate who facilitated the program. “That was one of our main goals—to introduce them to college and make them feel like it’s accessible.”

Now in its third year, the partnership with Marquette benefits Saint Mary’s students, too. Osberger said she spent four afternoons a week helping the fourth graders craft their letters and learned much in the process. Other Saint Mary’s students have served as classroom volunteers and after-school tutors at Marquette.

“It was a great opportunity to reach out to the kids, but the relationship went both ways. I saved all of Deja’s letters and she saved mine,” says Quinlan, an elementary education major who wants to teach in an inner-city school. “At Saint Mary’s we take a lot of opportunities for granted, but when you see how excited these girls are just to be on campus, it puts everything in perspective. These are the kids I’d like to be working with.”

Photo: Quinlan O’Grady ‘10 and Deja Glenn.