You Got Mail: How One FCPS Elementary School is Reviving Letter Writing to Help Improve Literacy Rates

By Office of Communication and Community Relations
April 27, 2022

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When Reading Specialist Jill Norris joined the staff of Stratford Landing Elementary School last August, she brought with her a love of letter writing developed from her childhood days exchanging mail with her grandmother.

So when she sat down to consider ways to engage students in reading and writing, she drew inspiration from those memories.

Now, outside her office in the Alexandria school, sits a mailbox inside which children drop off hand-written letters each day, sharing everything from their weekend activities to their struggles with school.

Mrs. Norris writing letters to students
Mrs. Norris promises to write back to every single student who mails her a letter.

Even if she has to stay up late each night, Norris makes a point of replying to every letter on brightly colored notepaper, delivered the following day to classrooms.

“I really felt that I had something I could offer these students as they returned to school buildings this year - and I wanted to do what I could to help,” she said about joining the school.

“At Stratford Landing, we firmly believe that reading and writing go hand-in-hand and we have found that our students did not spend time writing during the pandemic. So, the Administration, the teachers, and I initiated a “writing revolution.” 

Each day, she checks her mailbox to see what has been delivered. Hundreds of letters have now been exchanged.

A mailbox full of letters written by Stratford Landing students
Mrs. Norris placed a mailbox outside her office for students to drop off letters.

She said, “I receive lovely drawings and stories and the most imaginative, folded-paper envelopes, often with instructions on how to open them! A group of third-grade girls even formed a letter-writing club and wrote to several teachers in the school.”

Despite her relatively short tenure at the school, she has quickly become a much-loved staff member.

Her work to help increase literacy levels and raise students out of intervention has been impressive. At the beginning of the year, more than 200 students scored below 39% on the iReady reading assessment.  In the fall, Norris met with 76 students who required significant intervention; by Spring that number had fallen to less than twenty.

Last year, FCPS launched the Equitable Access to Literacy program to raise reading and writing standards over the coming years.

FCPS Plan to Increase Student Reading/Writing Skills