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Pen Pals

May 6, 2019



Rutherford County Schools


Alice Byrnes developed a love and appreciation for books when she was just a young girl.


Once she graduated from flipping through picture books, she would “always read as many books” as she could get her hands on.


And looking back, the Central Magnet School senior said her fourth- and fifth-grade teachers coupled with her parents made an impact on her love of reading.


“I was surrounded by good libraries,” Byrnes added.


Byrnes, who will major in mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University, is the president of the Central Magnet book club and helped the school’s librarians — Sarah Svarda and Krista Denton — organize this year’s pen pal project with a third-grade class from Bradley Academy.


Students from Bradley were paired with middle and high school students from Central.


Throughout the 2018–2019 school year they have exchanged short letters, 90-second video messages through a secured program called Flipgrid and had short Skype sessions. This year’s pairing culminated, on Friday, with a two-hour in-person get together in the library at Central.


Bradley students perused the shelves of books, sat together for a spirited reading of a book, ate pizza, took part in an Easter egg hunt and other fun activities that brought about shrieks and giggles.


“I get to impart my love of reading on to (them) and that makes me really happy,” said Byrnes, who joined the book club five years ago as an eighth-grader.


She added, “We’ve been doing this for, I think, three years. It was a previous librarian, she just decided to reach out and say, ‘Do you want your students to have somebody to read to them or just have somebody to talk back and forth?’”


Central, which was recently named the best high school in Tennessee and the fifth best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, typically partners with a predominately low-income school.


They have chosen a different school each year.


During the year, Central’s book club created a birthday book program with the help and support of a parent and then, on Friday, they also gifted each of the Bradley students with a book of their own. They also donated a small collection of books to the school library at Bradley. Part of the funds come from a $10 membership fee for the book club along with fundraisers and a book drive.


Friday’s event was a fun and creative day for all the students – Bradley and Central – to enjoy one another’s company and foster a love and excitement for reading.


“The kids are always hugging their pen pals,” said Brynes, who later concluded, “I want to start a bookstore when I retire. That would be a lot of fun. I would enjoy that—a little independent bookstore. I love independent bookshops.”