By David Boyce
November 11, Veterans Day, will have added meaning for a South Valley Middle School eighth grader and her classmates.
A year ago, Linda Klein, a 6th grade English Language Arts teacher at South Valley, got students involved in a project that went beyond turning in an essay paper for a grade. Students in her class had to write a letter to veterans who participated in the Heartland Honor Flight to Washington D.C., where veterans fly there and back in the course of just one day. On their return trip, veterans received the letters South Valley students wrote them, just like was done in their time of war.
“It has created more of an awareness in the community around them and enabled them to think bigger,” Klein said. “I know it has created empathy. We talked about those veterans and looked at those veterans not as the seniors they are today, but as the men and women they were when they went off to war. The students developed a greater understanding and appreciation, because they could relate to the men and women that way. It touched them as if they were family members.”
The project definitely moved one student, who wrote more than one letter, or two letters, or three letters. The student didn’t know exactly how many she wrote, but according to Klein, it was at least 50. This student looked at the bios that were provided and wrote a different letter for each veteran.
“They had to leave their families,” she said of what she learned about what veterans went through in times of war. “It was so sad.”
Klein said her student is a great writer who writes with emotion and from the heart.
“I think what is so relatable about this student is that so many of these men and women went overseas and fought and were in battles that united us as a country,” Klein said. “This student has had her own battles right here, and she has fought those very bravely. She is so compassionate and empathetic, which came through in her letters. She reached out and touched others with her letters.”
Since the initial project, this student is like many of the students at South Valley, who are now writing letters to veterans, not for a grade or extra credit, but simply because they feel compelled to show appreciation for the veterans as they participated in the honor flights, which occurs in spring and fall.
“I think it is very important for students to see a real-world connection to what they are doing,” South Valley Principal Jill Mullen said. “We could easily have them write a paper and have a teacher grade it; however, it means more when they know somebody will be receiving it on the other end. It gives their letters purpose. Students are willing to work harder when they know it is going beyond our walls at South Valley.”
Some of the South Valley students went beyond letter writing for the veterans who participated in the Heartland Honor Flight and greeted them at KCI airport when they returned from Washington D.C.
“The families were as moved as the students were, and the students were moved more than the veterans were,” Klein said.
The letter-writing project came about because of the involvement of Liberty Public Schools with Northland CAPS (Center for Advanced Professional Studies). It immerses high school students in professional environments through engaging curriculum.
“We were reaching out to businesses and partnering with them,” Klein said. “This was a way for our kids to be involved.”
Because of the letter-writing project, the students at South Valley now have a deeper understanding of what life was like for these veterans and their families in past times of war.
“I hope they have a greater understanding of the sacrifices these men and women made, which now benefit these students, as well as an appreciation for those who are not of their generation, to value stories not necessarily similar to their own,” Mullen said.
As a result of this project, veterans have been invited to South Valley to speak with students.
“We are bridging the generations and creating greater understanding,” Klein said.