NATICK, Mass. –
“Imagine if you were away at summer camp … and everyone was called up and received a letter from home and you were the only one who didn’t get a letter,” Janice Massar asked her students,” How do you think you would feel?”
The students in Massar’s 6th grade English class at the John F. Kennedy Middle School in Natick, thought about the question and are trying to make sure that some people far from home never have that feeling.
“Let’s do some brainstorming,” said Massar, “What can I write in a letter to a Soldier I don’t even know?”
The Soldiers, the students at Kennedy and nearby Brown Elementary School are writing letters to, are Massachusetts National Guardsmen deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I wanted to come here today to thank you all for doing this for us, for doing this for our deployed Soldiers,” said Cynthia M. Clark, the Senior Vice President for the Ladies Auxiliary, American Legion Post 107 in Natick, told the students. “Getting a letter from home is like Christmas, it’s so exciting.”
Clark, who is also a Staff Sgt. in the Mass. National Guard and is assigned to the State Medical Command, served for two years in a Community Based Warrior Transition Unit. These units provide command and control services for National Guard and Reserve Troops who were injured or became seriously ill while on active duty and are receiving medical treatment back at their homes.
Clark’s husband Patrick, an Army medic who is currently receiving treatment for injuries he received during his service in Iraq, as well as the other Soldiers she met while working with the CBWTU, used to tell her how important it was for the troops overseas to receive mail from home and how important it was for someone, even a total stranger, to remember them.
“I was sending mail to a friend’s son overseas, I had my son and his classmates write letters.” said Clark. “I thought ‘Why don’t we do this on a bigger scale?’”
She approached her fellow members of the Ladies Auxiliary, who when they heard about the project agreed to pay the postage required to ship the letters.
Clark then approached the local schools.
“This is a good idea,” said Rosemary Vickery, the principal at Kennedy, after learning of the project. “I’m glad that we’re doing this. How can we get this going?”
Vickery sent an e-mail to her teachers, asking if they could fit the letter writing into their curriculum.
“They responded positively, immediately,” said Vickery
The Kennedy School had recently hosted their annual Veterans Day breakfast, when local veterans come to the school and the children can meet them and ask questions about their service.
“I think that students, especially in the middle level, don’t understand what happens in the world yet. Their world is their school, the soccer field and their house,” said Vickery. “What we want to foster in our kids is giving back to the community and this is a huge piece of it. You have the privileges that you have because of what people have done for you. Your parents, your coaches, the Soldiers who serve us … so this just fit in.”
For the classroom full of 6th graders who were writing to the Soldiers, there was one big question … how to start the letter.
“What kinds of things do you think we may want to write about?” asked Massar.
“Thank you for your service,” replied one student.
Most of the students began their letter this way. Massar suggested that the students write about their everyday activities … their after school football or soccer games, their music lessons, even the weather. Anything that would let the Soldiers know what was going on back home.
After a few more suggestions, the students went to work. They wrote about swimming, their pets and everyday life.
“I think it made the kids really sit back and think … think about what the Soldiers are doing for each of us … as a country and individually,” said fellow teacher Rebecca Schneekloth.
It’s not just the fighting the Soldiers may be engage in said Schneekloth, but the overall sacrifice that comes with volunteering to serve in the military during a time of war.
“They were away from their families, away from their children, away from their parents … spending long days working,” said Schneekloth.
The students are hoping the troops write back.
“I had questions for them (the Soldiers) about what they do in their free time and if they have friends and pets and things, “said Ryan Joseph, one of Massar’s students.
Do you get to watch TV, What kinds of food do you eat and Do you play video games were among the most common questions that were asked.
“It’s good that the Soldiers are helping out overseas,” said Luke O’Hare. “I think its cool writing to Soldiers.”