In a world increasingly reliant on technology for basic communication, it’s nice to know there’s still a place that appreciates the value of a simple handwritten letter. That place is Garrettford Elementary School in the Upper Darby School District.
The Delaware County school is one of the few in the state still operating the Wee Deliver program, a student-run, in-house mail-delivery service that operates like a mini U.S. Post Office.
But if this sounds like a legacy program being kept alive by some school elder who refuses to budge in the face of tech innovation, that notion is quickly dispelled when you see the enthusiasm it generates among the fourth-graders who operate it.
“Sometimes we miss all of our recess,” said fourth-grader and Wee Deliver member MJ Brooks. “But I still love the program because it’s fun to deliver and sort and stamp the mail. And I do it with a lot of my friends.”
Better than recess?
Every day, a handful of industrious fourth-graders happily give up a portion of their lunch or recess to gather, sort, and deliver mail throughout the three-story school, using a system that mirrors the U.S. Postal Service. Only in this world, each floor is a separate “city,” and each classroom or office is a separate street – with names like Happy Valley or Sunshine Lane or Main Road. Each student, teacher, and faculty member gets their own address.
“The secretaries, the lunch cafeteria workers, the ladies that help us on the playground – all have addresses so anyone can receive a letter on any given day,” explained Rosemary Farrell, a fourth-grade ELA and science teacher who has run the program for the last 15 years.
“One of the benefits of the program is that children receive messages from the adults that they spend time with,” she said. “A note from a teacher from a year or two before, or a note from a teacher in a class that saw you doing something positive – you can see on their face the smile when there’s a letter on their desk. And that smile goes a long way to helping them feel positive about themselves and the day ahead.”
It’s about more than just mail
Each student must apply for a spot on the Wee Deliver team. And the process mirrors what they can expect when applying for a job in the real world, complete with an application form, a test, references from other teachers, and, finally, an interview with Postal Director Farrell.
“One of the key parts of being a Wee Deliver worker is that you are responsible and respectful,” Farrell said. “Because we say that you are ‘on the streets’ by yourselves. The students who take these jobs know the responsibilities, and they travel throughout the cities without an adult. They’re under adult supervision, but they’re really traveling respectfully and taking care of the job on their own.”
This helps the kids learn to problem-solve on their own, or in collaboration with other students, instead of relying on adults for answers.
The kids seem to appreciate the responsibility and are eager to embrace their roles, even recruiting new friends into the program. All that built-in excitement has kept the program alive at Garrettford for more than two decades.
Among other benefits, Wee Deliver presents a great opportunity to teach students about paying it forward. Farrell always encourages students who receive a letter to send one in return, keeping the chain of kindness going throughout the whole school.
“So that we’re constantly spreading good wishes,” she said. “And it’s not necessarily one friend to another all the time, but across the building.”
It’s not always just letters, either. Recently they experimented with sending Flat Stanley through the mail to help students learn more about one another’s backgrounds.
Students can also submit jokes via the mail service that get read aloud during announcements at the end of the day.
“The Wee Deliver program continues to build great enthusiasm throughout the whole school community,” Farrell said. “New fourth-graders know the opportunity that lies ahead of them in order to be a worker, to travel throughout the building taking care of the mail. Students throughout the grades are excited to write letters. And that thrill of having a letter arrive at your address with your name on it from someone in the building spreads lots of smiles.”