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Trine pen pal program resumes for spring semester

Trine University and Education One, the university’s charter school authorizer, are partnering again on Trine Pals, a program that allows charter school students the opportunity to trade letters with Trine students.

This semester, 57 Trine students from various majors have been matched up with 58 students from Dynamic Minds Academy, an Indianapolis-based charter school that serves K-12 students who have autism spectrum disorder.

“Our students will have the opportunity to practice important communication skills they will need for adulthood by writing to their Trine Pals,” said Samantha Bandy, education director at Dynamic Minds Academy. “We normally participate in Best Buddies (an organization that partners volunteers with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities) and our students have missed out on that opportunity to connect with neurotypical peers this year. We are excited for this opportunity!”

Students from Trine and Dynamic Minds will take part in three letter exchanges throughout the spring semester. The first round of letters will be delivered to Dynamic Minds students on Feb. 11, along with a Trine pencil they can use to write their return letters. 

Trine students will be able to demonstrate proper letter writing and communication while sharing information about their chosen college pathway, hobbies or sports, as well as life on the Trine campus.

“We are thrilled with the growth of our Pen Pal program and that more Trine students volunteered this year,” said Brenda Mescher, assistant director of community connections and compliance for Education One. “This program is a wonderful way for our Trine students to mentor younger scholars and truly impact their lives for years to come. The younger students get the opportunity to become acquainted with a college student, as well as practice important daily life skills.” 

In the past, Trine students have visited classrooms to meet their charter student pen pals. Due to COVID-19 precautions, that meeting will occur on a virtual platform this semester.

Bianca Johnston, an elementary education/special education major who has participated in the program and is doing so again, said the experience is “wonderful.”

“It was amazing to hear how happy the children were to be writing the letters to us and to get to know us,” she said. “It was also great to get to know them as well.”

Alli Smith, another elementary education/special education major, said she has kept everything charter students in the program have sent to her in a folder.

“It makes me smile every time I come across it,” she said.

She said a favorite interaction was one of the first letters she received from her pen pal.

“They were telling me about themselves and they drew an adorable self-portrait,” she said. “They pointed out that we both had blue eyes and they were sure to mention that in all my other letters. It was cool to see them making connections and remembering little things like that.”

One of eight charter schools currently sponsored by Education One, Dynamic Minds Academy opened in 2019. The school aims to bridge the gap between treatment and education for students with autism spectrum disorder by providing evidence-based practices for personal growth within an optimal learning environment, including therapy on-site during the school day.