Students connect with senior pen pals through cursive letters

Our ongoing series A More Perfect Union aims to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. In this installment, we look at the power of the written word.


Common Core educational standards no longer require students to learn cursive, but supporters of longhand writing refuse to let it die. Eleven states either require or encourage the teaching of cursive in public schools. Since 2017, 10 states have considered legislation to add cursive writing to the curriculum. 

Third graders at Good Shepherd Episcopal in Dallas are learning a lost art, practicing cursive by writing letters to their pen pals. It's almost a foreign language for today's younger generation, reports CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca. 

"It used to hurt my hand a lot, but now I've gotten used to it," student Ahan Jain said.

For many kids, it's hard to read -- and harder to write.

But Tim Mallad, the father of one of those students, wanted to do something about that. 

"Wouldn't it be fun for the children to begin to learn how to read letters and perhaps get the thrill of getting a real letter in the mail?" Mallad said. 

He came up with the pen pal idea and shared it with the teacher, Karen Gunter, after he sent a letter in cursive to his daughter away at camp and she couldn't read a word he had written.

"She said she was mad at me. 'Well, why are you mad at me?' 'Well, your letter.' And I'm thinking I didn't say anything bad in the letter," Mallad said. "'No, you wrote it in that funny writing.'"
 
As CEO of Presbyterian Communities and Services, Mallad oversees several retirement homes and knows a lot of people who still use that "funny writing." So he helped pair up students with several seniors like 75-year-old Sue Standlee.
 
"It's difficult for me to do text and emails, or text, anyway, because there's so many shortened, abbreviated things, that… I don't know what they are," Standlee said, laughing.

Standlee was matched up with 9-year-old Samantha Moseley, and the pair instantly hit it off on paper.
 
"I feel like I'm actually talking to her," Moseley said. "This has made me like -- like to write a lot more."
 
Third grade teacher Karen Gunter said the cursive lesson also allows her to teach grammar along with the mechanics of writing. It's one of the only times she knows the students are paying attention.
 
"When we're writing the letters, they are quiet," Gunter said.

"But during other times in class?" Villafranca asked.

"Oh, no. Some of them never shut up," Gunter said with a laugh.
 
Retired writer Nancy Miller, 80, was worried she wouldn't have anything to talk about with her 9-year-old pen pal Ahan Jain.
 
"And in the very first paragraph or two, he says, 'I'm a Dallas Cowboys fan and my favorite player's Dez Bryant.' And I thought, 'Wow, we have a connection right away,'" Miller said. Turns out, Miller and Jain both have strong opinions on their beloved Dallas Cowboys.
 
After a few months of exchanging letters, the students finally got a chance to meet their cursive correspondents. Standlee and Moseley are now more than pen pals.
 
"Well, she's just flamboyant. She a pistol ... it was wonderful to meet her, just wonderful," Standlee said.

"I got to meet someone new and not just writing to them ... in short letters and stuff. I actually got a friendship with her," Moseley said.
 
In a world of constant emails, texts and direct messages, the kids say there's nothing like that "funny writing" to help keep friends connected.