Source: The Irmo News

Kindred Kids, a pen pal program that promotes friendship and acceptance among kids from diverse backgrounds, held its first fall gathering in Columbia December 12 at Harbison West Elementary.

Kindred Kids paired fourth graders from two classes at Harbison West – a core curriculum class and a class in the Escolares Academy Academic Magnet program- and they exchanged monthly letters and crafts throughout the semester. The students met in person at the end of the semester and participated in activities designed to help them get to know each other better, as well as eat a meal together.

“At Harbison West we are a very diverse school and we’re hardworking, empathetic, respectful and open-minded and we thrive and leverage that diversity to build a better society and to expose our children to many opportunities to see things that are different,” said Harbison West Elementary principal Edward Davis. “The Kindred Kids program is just one of the avenues we use but we have many others here at Harbison West.”

WINGS for Kids, a Charleston-based nationwide afterschool program focused on social and emotional learning, launched Kindred Kids in fall 2015 as a response to the tragic, racially motivated murders at Mother Emanuel AME Church in June 2015. Over the last three years, more than 200 students have participated in the program, forging friendships and bonds all over Charleston. Kindred Kids is in its fourth year, and this year marks the first that WINGS has expanded the program to a new city.

“We wanted to build a program to help kids interact with kids that are different than them,” said Bridget Laird, CEO WINGS for Kids. “Kindred Kids teaches kids how to learn and accept and value differences and learn to build friendships with kids that they might not normally interact with.”

“Kindred Kids is a great program to make new friends,” said Jada Thompson, fourth grade participant. “We have been writing letters and notes and we have been telling our pen pal in a different classroom about ourselves without seeing them and today we got to meet them and get to know them better. It was fun to see all the things that I have in common with my pen pal.”

“Our students are excited to put a name with the letters and artwork they were receiving,” Davis said. “Watching them discover that they have something in common with their pen pal and seeing them talk and find out new things about each other was my favorite part of today’s reveal.”

School District Five Superintendent Dr. Christina Melton attended the reveal party. She congratulated the students for embracing the project and owning their learning. “The letters that you have been writing not only take time to think about and write but it also takes courage to decide what you choose to write and share with someone you don’t even know,” Melton said.

“I think it is a very good idea because it bonds kids together who might not ever become friends,” said Mallory Greene, fourth grade participant. “This project could create really strong bonds for the future and if we are all friends and have strong bonds there won’t be as much conflict and there won’t be as many problems and it would just be a better world.”