Catholic Schools Week
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St. Michael the Archangel Regional School Wins Innovations in Catholic Education Award
The Premier Catholic School was Recognized by Today’s Catholic Teacher for its Pen Pal Club, which Brings Senior Citizens in the Community and St. Michael Students Together
[Clayton, NJ] June 18, 2020 — St. Michael the Archangel Regional School was chosen in Today’s Catholic Teacher’s 23rdannual Innovations in Catholic Education Award to be among the top 12 schools in a field of 100 applicants, winning the Total Community Involvement Category for its long-running Pen Pal Club.
“We are thankful for being named winner and being recognized for our innovative Pen Pal Club,” Principal Philip J. Gianfortune said. “We aspire to having programs in our school that fulfill our mission and are in line with the Catholic Social Teachings for our students.”
St. Michael began its Pen Pal Club, under the direction of Sister Bianca Camilleri (FMIHM), in 2012 as a service project to bring senior citizens and students together, creating a bond between the community and the school.
“At St. Michael, students learn how to care for and respect others, pray for those who are sick or lonely, and to put the needs of others ahead of their own,” Sister Bianca explained. “The Pen Pal Club provides an opportunity for the students to put into service what they are learning at school.”
At the beginning of each school year, senior citizens from St. Michael’s parishes, including those that are homebound, sick, or elderly, are asked to be a part of the Club. Those that were already members are invited to participate again.
St. Michael students in fourth through eighth grades elect to join the Pen Pal Club. Some of the members continue year after year until they graduate, knowing that they are being of service to their community and because of the relationships they have developed with their pen pals.
One senior pen pal wrote to Sister Bianca, “I think it is a very good program for both the students and their pen pals. I know that I truly appreciate receiving my letters. I’m not sure who gets more excited, me or my husband. I’m certain all pen pals feel the same way as I do.”
Throughout the school year, the students write monthly and on special occasions to their senior pen pal, sharing their life experiences, including updates on their school activities. “While the senior pen pals are not expected to write back, they are encouraged to do so if they are able, as the students are just as thrilled to receive letters as they are to send them,” Gianfortune explained.
One senior pen pal wrote in her letter to her student pen pal, “I feel truly blessed that you chose me to be your pen pal.”
The senior pen pals are also remembered in daily prayers, as well as at church on Sunday. They are even invited to school Masses and special events, such as the St. Michael Veterans Day Appreciation Breakfast and Prayer Service. At the end of the school year, St. Michael hosts a Pen Pal celebration, complete with fun, friendship, refreshments and entertainment, where the students meet and honor their senior pen pals.
During the 2019 gathering of pen pals, an eighth grade student spoke to those in attendance, including special guest Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan of the Diocese of Camden. She describes her experience as a pen pal: “I have been a pen pal since fourth grade. I have enjoyed writing many letters to [my pen pals] over the years, but my greatest joy has been in receiving correspondence from my pen pal families. I have saved every letter.”
“This is a truly wonderful program that benefits students, seniors, and the community, and creates a bond with memories that last a lifetime,” Gianfortune explained. “What makes this program so innovative is that it has stood the test of time and technology.”
NOTE: Over 100 schools entered this year’s Innovations in Catholic Education contest, which was narrowed down to 12 finalists, three for each of four categories. Read about the other finalists here: Innovations in Catholic Education Awards 2020