"He's about the same age as I am. We're gonna play video games together and sports. . . . I'm looking forward to meeting him," he said.
The students who met at Pearl S. Buck School on Friday morning are among hundreds of thousands of children who correspond with other children, either in the United States or abroad.
At least a half-dozen national and international organizations help to match up children with prospective pen pals, and programs such as the one between the two area elementary schools do the same. In addition, parents sometimes help their children to establish correspondence with a faraway relative or friend.
Al Shankan, principal of Pearl S. Buck Elementary, says that any program that encourages children to write to one another is invaluable.
"Writing letters develops creative skills and curiosity. It's great preparation for life," he said.
But having a pen pal within the school district has certain limitations, he concedes.
"The kids from Walter Miller are 15 minutes away, at the most, so this is not exactly a culturally diverse sample. But anytime you give kids a real situation rather than a manufactured one, it's going to benefit them," he said. "Besides, most times kids never get to meet their pen pals."
Kim Parks, program manager for the stamps division of the U.S. Postal Service in Washington, helped develop an international pen pal club for the agency's Olympic sponsorship in 1990-92. She said that, although personal correspondence made up a relatively small proportion of first-class mail today, letter-writing had an important place in U.S. history.
"Our whole country was started by colonists writing to Great Britain and saying, 'Come on over here - it's great!' "
But Parks has doubts about the future of letter-writing.
"As technology and information highways expand, will people be using the mail to correspond with one another? Even now, people are more likely to pick up the phone than write," she said.
In fact, personal cards and letters made up only 4.4 percent of first-class mail in 1991, according to the latest U.S. Postal Service survey.
That didn't matter to Daniel Jones, who came to Pearl S. Buck Elementary
from Walter Miller to meet his pen pal. He was bubbling over with enthusiasm.
"My pen pal likes a lot of the same things I do," he said, "like fishing, reading the 'goosebumps' books (R. L. Stine), and Legos. . . . I really want to meet him."
Some of the bigger pen pal organizations, such as World Pen Pals and the club formerly sponsored by the Postal Service, provide topic ideas to help children break the ice, and tips for writing to someone from a different culture.
"It's intimidating for a kid to look at a blank page and try to decide what to say to a kid from a foreign country," said Parks. But it's
worthwhile, she said, to encourage young correspondents to keep letter-writing alive.
"There's nothing as personal or touching as getting a letter from a friend or relative," she said. "There's just nothing that equals that."