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PencilPALS program pairs kids with writers like Ephron

Adults know them as names in the credits of their favorite TV shows and movies, but the fourth- and fifth-grade students at PS 16 in Corona know them as pals — specifically, PencilPALS.

Through PencilPALS, a children’s writing program held through the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, several authors visited the school, at 41-15 104th St., Friday to meet face-to-face with students they had been writing to via handwritten letters since September.

Sitting on kid-sized chairs and a carpet on the floor, the young students talked about their favorite books, going to school and their summer vacations with the older writers. Visitors included writer and director Nora Ephron, her sister screenwriter Delia Ephron and writers from television shows such as “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “One Life to Live” and “The Cosby Show.”

“I think it was a great opportunity to meet someone who writes books,” said Grace Han, 10, a student at PS 16. “Many writers also wrote books and plays.”

This is the second year that the 5-4 Gifted and Talented class at PS 16 has participated in the program. In it, students are paired with a professional writer who they correspond with on a regular basis throughout the year.

Nora Ephron said it was fun to write to her pal, 11-year-old Fabiola Adosav.

“Fabiola is the only person who writes me letters besides the electric company, the phone company,” she said.

Gina Gionfriddo, a former “Law & Order” writer who helped administer the program at PS 16, said it teaches students how to write letters, which she said is a good thing to retain in an age where most communication is done by e-mail, since it is a slower process and allows the writer to be more reflective.

“I had a pen pal when I was a kid ... and I just remember how exciting it was to exchange letters and meet the person who you correspond with,” Gionfriddo said.

Janet Esposito, the gifted and talented teacher, said each of her 24 students had their own correspondent and letters both to and from the author would be read in front of the class. She said every day students would ask if they had gotten a letter.

“Now it’s like someone who they’ve never met that’s taking their time out and talking to them,” Esposito said.

Student Kimberly Aguilar, who corresponded with Barbara Garshman, soap opera writer for “Guiding Light,” said writing letters allowed her to “go back in time” to when there was no advanced technology to communicate.

“I got really excited,” Aguilar said. “Like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I got mail from someone!’”

Albert Quinones, 10, did not get to meet his correspondent ´╗┐but got to talk to writer Ethan Silverman and may become an author himself.

“Now that I’ve talked to Ethan Silverman, I’m going to start thinking of my own ideas to write books for children and adults,” Quinones said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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