Elementary students join pen pals on campus tour

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Engineering freshman Reuben Wong teaches elementary schoolers how to break dance as a part of K-Day on Tuesday. Buy this photo

By Ariana Assaf, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 12, 2013

For a University student, the phrase, “I want to live here for ever and ever” isn't typically the first to come to mind when dining in South Quad Residence Hall. However, on Tuesday afternoon, those were the exact words that came out of a very excited fifth grader’s mouth.

K-grams, also known as Kids Programs, is a student-led organization that helps build relationships between college students and elementary-school students. Tuesday, the University's chapter held its second K-day of the year, bringing about 60 fifth graders from Willow Run Elementary School in Ypsilanti to the University campus. The first K-day of the academic year was held during the fall semester.

K-day is intended to give elementary school students an idea of what a “day in the life of a Wolverine” is like. Organizers employ University students as tour guides and role models for younger students in hopes that the kids leave inspired and seeing a pursuit in a higher education as an achievable goal.

Tuesday’s activities included a chemistry demonstration, a visit to the Planetarium, a meet-and-greet session with student athletes, lunch at South Quad, a museum tour and a variety show.

Education senior Amanda Webster, started working with K-grams during her freshman year and is now the executive director.

“I had always wanted to be a teacher,” Webster said. She taught dance in high school and signed up to be a pen pal early her freshman year.

The pen pal program matches more than 1,000 University students with students from nine elementary schools in Southeastern Michigan to exchange letters on a monthly basis.

Webster continued her involvement with K-grams through the BookMARK program during her sophomore year because it allowed her to stay active with the program even though she was not living in University housing. Most K-grams programs require participants to live in the residence halls.

BookMARK arranges for University students to visit an elementary school once a week, either for one-on-one or group mentoring and reading activities.

Education senior Natalie Voss worked as a student leader for K-day. She said her favorite part about the program is seeing the kids, who wouldn’t have much interest in writing otherwise, put so much effort into letters for their pen pals.

“They really put time into making (the letters) their best work,” Voss said.

Jasmine, a Willow Run student, said her encounter with a member of the track team on K-day got her thinking about running track if she ends up at the University. Another student, Zeke, said his favorite part about the tour was the planetarium.

LSA sophomore Katherine Wolf has been Zeke’s pen pal since she joined K-grams in September. They met at Tuesday's K-day and said it was fun to bond over South Quad’s grilled cheese sandwiches.

“All my pen pals want to be doctors,” Zeke said.

In fact, Wolf wants to be a pediatrician. “This is a good experience in communicating with someone younger than me,” she said.

LSA senior Sydney Behrmann said she has always enjoyed working with kids and finds being a pen pal a fun break from regular campus life. She got involved during her freshman year, and although she was unable to be a pen pal last year while living off-campus, she’s happy that being a residential adviser this year has allowed her to resume her work with K-grams.

“Getting the letters is so much fun,” she said. “It's great to see someone really look up to you.”