The children formed a line, facing the glass doors that lead into Winding Waters K-8 School. The second-graders were watching as their same-grade pen pals from Explorer K-8 School walked toward the building to meet them for the first time.
The children had been corresponding since October, and their teachers had finally arranged a chance to meet. To add to the fun, Winding Waters second-grade teacher Josephine Maher and Explorer second-grade teacher Jessica Woods had their students prepare descriptions of themselves so the pen pals could identify each other.
As they paired up and became acquainted, the teachers pinned name tags on them. Winding Waters' Andre El Yamani, 7, had just met Explorer's Layne Mathis, 7.
Layne said he liked the writing program.
"I think it's pretty fun," he said.
He also had a good impression of Andre. "He's pretty cool and I like him."
And Andre liked Layne, too. "He's cool. He's nice. He's funny."
The boys have something in common.
"We both do the same thing," Layne said. "Play baseball."
"I want to be a Yankee," Andre said.
"I want to be Evan Longoria (of the Tampa Bay Rays)," Layne said.
Nearby, Winding Waters' Lacey Barton, 8, was getting to know Explorer's Zoe Balkema, 8. They would spend the next few hours talking, having lunch, touring the school, playing games and enjoying what the teachers called an ice cream explosion, before ending the day with a writing activity about their favorite parts of the get-together.
Maher and Woods decided to work together on the writing project earlier in the school year.
"We met at a training, the common core math training," Woods said. "We just happened to be at the same table. She had the idea, and I said, 'Sure.' And we ponied our letters back and forth," Woods said, referring to the inter-school mail system, which saved money on postage.
Postage was an issue for Maher, who has been doing pen pal projects with her students for years. Over the years, children have written to pen pals in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Delaware, New York, New Jersey and China.
"But that was way too expensive with postage," Maher said.
Her students learned about the other states and China, integrating social studies and writing lessons. And, the teachers explained, the children experienced the difference between receiving email and getting a letter.
"They get so excited to get them," Maher said. "We want kids to be excited about writing."
The teachers both commended their administrators for their assistance in making the visit happen. At Woods' end, it was principal John Stratton. Maher thanked Winding Waters principal David Dannemiller and assistant principal Kristina Garofano.
Maher said she has tried in the past to have pen pals within the same school, but the excitement was never there.
Winding Waters' Tabatha Hernandez, 8, gave credence to Maher's observation.
"I thought it was exciting to meet Mylei for the first time," she said, referring to Explorer K-8's Mylei Bonebrake, 8.
"I think she's nice and a very good person," Mylei said about Tabatha.
The girls said they will continue to write to each other.