By Denise Dick
Ten-year-old Earl Wainwright walked through the Harding Elementary School cafeteria, searching the faces of those gathered around the lunch tables.
At first he walked past Erin Kelligher of Cortland, the Youngstown State University freshman with whom Earl started corresponding last fall.
Just as he was past her, though, he doubled back and sat down next to his pen pal, a big smile spreading across his face.
Earl is one of 63 Harding third- and fourth-graders who started writing to students in the YSU Scholars and Honors Programs.
Elementary and college students met for the first time Friday.
“We just talked about our likes and dislikes and what we did for the holidays,” Erin said.
Each YSU-Harding pair received a notebook, and they alternated weeks to write back and forth. They included photographs of themselves, and Earl drew a couple of pictures.
“I’m not an artist,” he said. “I drew kids playing outside. It’s me, my baby brother and my sister.”
Harding Principal Susan Koulianos said the students were excited about the meeting. Another event is slated for April at YSU.
Amy Cossentino, assistant director of the university Scholars and Honors Programs, said the idea for the pen-pal program came from Dr. Rashid Abdu, a Youngstown surgeon who tutors at Harding. He knew of a similar program at Ohio State University and wanted to start one here.
It provides the younger students the opportunity to work on their writing and spelling skills and offers the older students a chance to work with younger people, many of whom come from backgrounds different from the elder pen pals, Cossentino said.
Fourth-grader Michael Cain, 11, and his pen pal, Anthony Alfano, a sophomore from Lowellville, talked a lot about sports.
Anthony is a Cleveland supporter, listing the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers as his favorite teams, Michael said.
Michael likes the San Francisco 49ers, New York Yankees, Chicago Bulls and the Cavaliers.
During their correspondence, Anthony included a photograph of himself and his girlfriend.
Michael “asked if she was my mom,” Anthony said with a laugh.
Fortunately, his girlfriend was a good sport about it.
Annie Carpenter of Sharon, Pa., a YSU junior, and fourth-grader Zeadah Knotts, 9, share a winter birthday. Annie’s is in December, and Zeadah’s is next week.
Annie noted improvement in Zeadah’s writing since they started corresponding.
“From where you were when we started, your grammar is perfect,” Annie said.
Zeadah said her older pen pal urged her to be strong.
“She wrote encouraging letters to me about my life,” she said.