Olivia Lowe explains how the Write Away penfriend scheme works
Write Away is a small but dynamic charity which has some innovative ideas for teachers in schools, day centres and further education colleges. Taking the form of a penfriend club, it is open to everyone but is particularly designed for children and young people with specific learning difficulties and special needs, whether physical, sensory, medical or emotional.
Its purpose is to alleviate the sense of isolation they often feel by matching them with penfriends who may be close to home (including family and carers) or from much further afield. It encourages them to correspond through diverse means: while writing postcards and letters or sending messages by e-mail and fax might be appropriate for some, others are prompted to use drawings, Makaton symbols, Braille, audio-tapes and videos.
For many, the experience of communicating with penfriends is liberating: "It's given me a feeling of freedom and independence," says Jonathan, "I really feel I can talk to someone who will actually listen." Club members may correspond with penfriends who have similar needs or have similar interests, so that they can share experiences, feelings and a sense of solidarity.
Write Away provides an authentic audience and purpose for improving communication and literacy skills. Antonia, who is dyslexic, says: "My writing is not so boring. You write, you get a repl, you begin to find more interesting things to say and your writing gets longer."
Write Away offers members the chance to join in events and competitions and to contribute to a newsletter issued in print, Braille and tape. A regular contributor is Beckz, whose physical disabilities have in no way deterred her ambition to become a journalist. She recently interviewed J K Rowling . "Without the opportunity Write Away has given me, I wouldn't be in such a strong position because you need experience."
Write Away provides a teacher's pack with joining details, classroom materials and clear indications about how the skills it helps to develop tie in with the national curriculum.
One teacher adviser on Write Away's board of trustees who is a deputy head and SENCO at a large primary school, says: "I just love the idea of swapping news and friendship with children all over the country. At school our Write Away Club meets each week."
Write Away is offering free membership to all TES readers who apply before November 30, 2000.
TESWrite Away free membership offer: contact Write Away (TES reader offer), Thorpe Close, London W10 5XL. Tel: 020 8964 4225. Fax: 020 8964 3532. Web: firstname.lastname@example.orgHow to set up a Write Away club: contact Christine Breckon, Chestnut Street CE Primary School, Ruskington, Sleaford, Lincolnshire, NG34 9DL.E-mail:email@example.com