Aera in the Community Jun 10, 2020

Signed, sealed and delivered: Pen-pal program connects students with Aera employees

Letter exchanges help San Ardo School kids learn about careers and real life amid COVID-19’s disruptions

Ardoiun Pen Pal Program

San Ardo School teacher Amy Ardouin displays some of the handwritten letters that were part of the pen-pal program between students and Aera employees.

Students at San Ardo School just wrapped up a year of cultivating friendships with 22 Aera Energy employees they’ve never met in person.

Through a pen-pal program that began last fall, the two groups exchanged a series of handwritten letters.

The program paired students in Amy Ardouin’s combined fifth- and sixth-grade language arts class with the Aera employees.

During the year, said Ardouin, students made emotional connections and learned about career opportunities in the oil and gas industry.

“The students cared about what was going on in the lives of their Aera pen pals and were interested in learning more about their jobs,” said Ardouin. “They were very excited to receive the letters.”

An end-of the-year field trip to let the pen-pal partners meet in person was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Aera participants closed out the long-distance interaction with final letters and photos sent to students.

Positive connections

One Aera letter-writer was Thomas Mansfield, a reliability specialist at the San Ardo field. He took part in a similar program more than 20 years ago as a San Ardo School student.

For him, the pen-pal program builds positive connections with children in the community where he grew up and raises his family today.

“San Ardo is a very small town,” Mansfield said. “I didn’t have much exposure to much of anything outside of the town as a kid. I knew my connection to the town would help me relate to my student pen pal a little more.”

Allison, a sixth-grader in Ardouin’s class, said it was fun to write to an Aera pen pal throughout the year. She was surprised they had common interests.

She and fifth-grader Edwin also enjoyed getting to know someone new.

Chris, another fifth-grader, said he enjoyed the experience so much he would take part in the program again.

Providing a sense of normalcy

Chris, another fifth-grader, said he enjoyed the experience so much he would take part in the program again.

Mark Bledsoe, a process manager at Aera, was disappointed he couldn’t meet his pen pal, a sixth-grader who loves video games.

“I explained in my letter that life is full of unexpected turns and challenges,” Bledsoe said. “I wanted him to understand there were others all over the world going through challenging times as well. I encouraged him to stay focused on his schoolwork through these times.”

Program coordinators Jennifer Valdez, a production engineer at Aera’s San Ardo field, and Kathy Miller, public affairs coordinator for San Ardo, received an overwhelming response from a broad cross-section of Aera employees who wanted to take part.

“Our employees love to share their work with others,” said Valdez. “The pen-pal program further supports our mission to build stronger communities.

Despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Valdez said she hoped the year’s final letters from Aera employees “provided students with a sense of normalcy and stability in times that have proven to be incredibly unpredictable for all of us.”

Ardouin plans to continue the program next year in her language arts class. She hopes the field trip can take place next year so students can meet the person on the other side of the handwritten letters.

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