PSSA Pen Pals: Tyrone and Bellwood Students Exchange Letters of Encouragement

Ask anyone who’s familiar with Pennsylvania’s standardized tests for students in third through eighth grade (the PSSAs), and they will tell you that they can be very stressful, especially for younger students.

Tyrone fourth-grade teacher Courtney Lonsinger knew her students were feeling stressed and wanted to help ease their anxiety with an exchange of letters between her fourth-graders and their peers in Bellwood.

“I thought it would be a cool way to collaborate with each other,” said Lonsinger. “So I reached out to [Ms. Fredrick from Bellwood] and asked her if she would be interested. It originally was just going to be our two classes getting together, and then we thought `what if we did this with the whole grade level?”

Ashlynn McKinney

When Lonsinger brought the idea to the other fourth-grade teachers they loved it and wanted to get their students involved too.

From that point, the letter project evolved from simple notes of encouragement to a small research assignment for which the students researched motivational quotes to include in their letters.

Click below to read examples of letters written by Tyrone fourth-graders Jaycee Frye and Melina Scott:

Fourth Grade PSSA Letter Examples

The video is of the students reading their letters.

Fourth-grader Melina Scott wrote, “I want to inform you to do your best and don’t let that voice or others pull you down from doing your best!”

In her letter, Jaycee Frye said “I know what it is like to be a fourth grader going into the PSSA. I hope this letter made you more confident. I know you will do great. Good luck!”

The letters were an opportunity for the students to reach out to others and give encouragement while also practicing their own writing skills.

“[The students] were happy to hear that other kids were taking the [PSSAs],” said Lonsinger.

This is Lonsinger’s first year at TAES, and she wanted to do something to create a positive environment for her students as they were taking the PSSAs.

“At my previous district students in the younger grades always wrote students in the older grades notes and encouraging letters,” said Lonsinger, who also brought that idea to the elementary school.

So in addition to the letters the fourth graders received from Bellwood for their first week of testing, they will also get a letter from a second-grade class during the second week of testing.

Lonsinger also reached out to her student’s parents and had them write letters for the student’s third and final week of testing.

She hopes that all of this will help her students realize that they aren’t alone and that others are cheering them on to do their best.

The best part of this project according to Lonsinger is how “One small idea had turned into this big project.”