Fourth-graders at Saint John the Baptist Catholic School in Silver Spring, Maryland, made unexpected friends this year. Their new buddies are residents of Brooke Grove Retirement Village in Sandy Spring, about a 20-minute drive away. They aren’t connecting by phone or text, however, but by writing letters.

Judy Jenkins, who teaches writing, thought her students might be able to help with the isolation that older people have endured through the coronavirus pandemic. Yet she could not have guessed how much her students would enjoy having a pen pal.

“I didn’t expect that it would take off as well as it has. The kids write back-and-forth, and some of the kids even write when it’s not time to write,” Jenkins said about their enthusiasm.

“I was really excited. I like making new friends,” Elsa Nebesky, 10, said about what she thought when her teacher introduced the idea of a pen pal. “But I was also kind of scared, because I was thinking, ‘what if they don’t write back,’ ” she said.

Elsa and her classmates wrote the first letters last fall, starting with “Dear Brook Grove friend” and then were paired with a retired resident. Since then, the letters have been frequent.

Noah Green, 9, enjoys socializing with someone new.

“Me, personally, I’m a very social person, so covid [has] been very hard. It’s hard to not go out and be with people,” he said. “But that’s why I write letters; then I can be with people without being with people.”

Noah and his pen pal, David Lee, talk about a lot of things, such as Lee’s interest in bluegrass music and Disney World.

“My favorite letter was probably when he wrote about [President Franklin D. Roosevelt]. I told him in the previous letter that I was doing a report on FDR for a school assignment,” Noah said.

For Lee, it was easy to feel connected with his pen pal.

“Isn’t it true that there’s a natural affinity of old people with young people, going both ways,” he said. This natural connection has made a tough year a little easier for Lee. “Breaks in the isolation are very helpful. Having contact with Noah is a particularly encouraging break in the isolation,” he said.

And most of all, Lee is impressed by the 9-year-old.

“I hope it’s true that his whole generation is able to express themselves in writing as well as Noah does,” he said.

Elsa’s pen pal, Lois Harris, said she gets a lot of comfort from the letters they exchange.

“It’s a good feeling that I could be connected with a fourth-grader, in part because I have great-grandchildren and one of them is in third grade,” Harris said.

“There’s nothing but good stuff that can come when you have generations meet each other and learn from each other. I mean, we all have our own stories to tell,” she added. “And it’s something that has been dropped in so many families, because they can’t get together.”

The pen pals have not met each other in person yet. The school and the retirement community hope to schedule an outdoor event before the school year ends. Until then, they’ll continue to learn from one another and keep each other company.

“Mrs. Harris is really sweet and kind,” Elsa said. “I’d say she’s always looking forward to my letters, and I’m always looking forward to hers.”