FORT WORTH, Texas - Anticipation built as 98 fourth grade students were about to meet their Fort Worth District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pen pals for the first time at their Valentine's Day party.

As part of the Adopt-A-School program the District sponsors the party along with writing monthly pen pal letters to H.V. Helbing Elementary school students.

"One of our goals when we started the program was to provide our fourth grade students with a one-on-one relationship with an adult who can provide our students with a role model from the business world and to help build their self esteem," said Irma Morin, counselor, H.V. Helbing Elementary.

Since starting the program 21 years ago, Fort Worth team members have written letters to their pen pals discussing topics from their favorite school subject, to what they would like to be when they grow up. The program's purpose is to help the students increase their writing skills as they prepare for the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test.

"I always look forward to writing my pen pal. I didn't think we would have so much in common and learn a lot from her too," said Destiny Garcia, fourth grade student.

H.V. Helbing, which is predominantly Hispanic, was "Recognized" last year which is the second highest rating under the Texas Education Agency's Academic Excellence Indicator System. According to Ebonie Graves, Adopt-a-School program coordinator, many of the students are learning English as a second language which can be very challenging.

Through the one-on-one communication, District team members encourage students to expand their writing skills by not only being creative but also focusing on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. The fourth grade students scored 88 percent on the writing portion of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) in 2011 compared to the state average which was 90 percent and continue to improve.

Corps' pen pal Kelsey Beck, from Real Estate Division said she has seen a significant difference in her student's writing abilities. "I can see she's gaining more confidence through our correspondence and growth of our friendship. My pen pal is doing well in writing because she enjoys not just because it's a class assignment," Beck said.

The District also volunteer as science fair judges as part of the USACE Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiative to increase awareness, build interest and provide hands-on activities in the subjects at a young age before they enter high school and college.

"Our outreach through our Adopt-a-School program is one of our most important and rewarding programs. We want to help make a difference by keeping the students focused and motivated to be future architects, engineers and leaders," said Col. Charles H. Klinge, Fort Worth District Commander.

"This program has formed lifelong bonds with previous H.V. Helbing students and Corps employees and we want to continue that tradition."

Page last updated Mon March 11th, 2013 at 00:00