Will Co Forest Preserve FS March 4-April

Email works fine in most instances, but District 153’s Daily Living Skills at Willow School wanted pen pals.
  Classroom aide Jesica-Lyn
  Tellis helps students in the
  Willow School Daily Living
  Skills class open their
  individual letters from their
  pen pals.
(Marilyn Thomas/
  H-F Chronicle)
So, they wrote to students at 20 schools across the country. Their classroom was filled with excitement Dec. 19 when teacher Kendra Duncan opened the packages stuffed with letters and specialty items from students in schools in Wisconsin, Connecticut, California, South Carolina, Texas, Massachusetts and a neighboring school in New Lenox.
  Teacher Kendra Duncan
  helps Liam Svec fill his
  plate with foods from
  around the world at the
  Daily Living Skills holiday
  Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

One school made Christmas ornaments for each of the 12 students in the Willow program. Another made bracelets with beads that spelled out the Willow students’ names. Others sent individual letters for each student. Still others composed classroom letters talking about the important things they did in their classroom and for the holiday season.

“This is just so much fun for them,” Duncan said, the anticipation building as another package is opened.
  Christopher Campbell
  gives teacher Kendra
  Duncan a hug as she
  reads his letter for a
  pen pal.


Willow students celebrated news from their new friends as part of a luncheon that focused on holiday traditions around the world that they’d been studying. The teacher and classroom assistants – Kim Burkman, Rhunaviah Allen, Emily Schroeder and Jesica-Lyn Tellis – made and served hot chocolate and tamales from Mexico, rice pudding from Sweden, jelly donuts and latkes from Israel and for Hanukkah, and cookies from the United States. 

  Teacher Kendra Duncan
  shows Willow students
  the special handmade
  ornaments sent by pen
  pals in South Carolina.

  (Marilyn Thomas/H-F 

Duncan used the new technology (Facebook) to reach other special education teachers about being pen pals.

“We started with five different schools and ended up with 20 schools. We sent out over 100 letters and answered several back from all over the United States.”
Daily Living Skills (DLS) gives students with disabilities an opportunity to attend school and interact with their kindergarten, first and second grade classmates for certain classes, like gym.
  Students in Willow School’s
  Daily Living Skills signed
  the group letter they sent
  to their pen pals across
  the country.
  Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

Their DLS classroom gives them the chance to learn at their own pace. All materials meet state standards. While some students may only be able to write one or two words, others were able to develop sentences, Duncan explained.

To prepare for the pen pals lesson, Duncan designed a travel lesson as if they were going on a holiday. The students colored the suitcase. It included a passport. When they learned about the holiday traditions, they put a stamp in their passports for that country.
Duncan said the pen pals helped her students get acquainted with a map of the United States.

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