Karen O’Keefe is currently an English Language Learning Testing Specialist and Write On, PencilPALS Coordinator at Mountain View School in north Phoenix. This position follows ten years as a Secondary Language Arts classroom teacher, thirteen years as a Title I Coordinator/Program Coach, and three years as a reading interventionist. Besides assessing ELL students’ English proficiency and working with them in small groups, Ms. O’Keefe also arranges school wide book giveaways, Young Authors’ Days, Read Across America Days, Sunshine Readers (formerly BookPALS), Literacy Family Nights, and reading incentive programs at the K-8 school with over 1500 at-risk, low-income students.
Write On, PencilPALS is a letter-writing program which began at Mountain View School in north Phoenix seven years ago. Since its start, over 750 3rd – 5th-grade students have participated in the program with the support of the Phoenix Writers Club. PencilPALS was originally a branch of BookPALS, a Screen Actors Guild literacy program which brings professional actors and actresses into the schools to read to students. Though there is no longer an official BookPALS program in Phoenix, Mountain View School has continued its Write On, PencilPALS program because of its great benefits, especially for the ELL students. It allows them to practice all the skills required to become proficient in English: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Students write one-two page letters to professional adults once or twice each month. Through this program, the students learn letter form, sentence and paragraph construction, and summarization. They also form close bonds with adults who become important in their lives.