The art of letter writing may seem all but lost but in schools across the United States, children are learning this older form of communication and making some grateful if unlikely friends. These kids are not using high speed internet, texting or social media to reach out. They are using pencils and paper. Among the beneficiaries of the missives are a soldier at war, some Cherokee Indians and a man nearing his centenarian birthday.
The first graders at a Georgia elementary school got wind of an email from a woman in Alaska who was worried about her father-in-law, Robert Ford, 98, who lived alone in Kansas. The man’s wish was to receive a few Christmas cards and his prayers were answered when he received 110 from the kids of Summerville Elementary in Summerville, Ga. And that was just the beginning.
First grade teacher Laura Gamble suggested he write a story about his life for the children. They returned the favor by sending him Valentine’s Day cards. He reciprocated by sending them 120 hand-folded paper airplanes. The give and take continues and the children have bridged the generation gap with a man who is more than 16 times their age. They are also learning about how much our lives have been changed by technology, in part by the stories send about his life as a boy without television or telephones.
A group of third-grade students have found a way to touch the heart of a soldier serving in Afghanistan whose comrades now call him “Glitter Man.” Teacher Debbie Wilsie of the North Rock Creek Elementary School in Shawnee, OK says her students are obsessed with glitter. When they made cards for Sgt. Jeremy Flowers, the cards were just covered in it. When Flowers would go out on patrol, his pants were sparkly and his friends gave him the nickname. He claims it serves as a reminder that there is a separate life outside of the war.
The son of a close personal friend of Wilsie’s, Flowers was so moved by the care package and card he received from the kids that he surprised them with a visit during his leave in November. The letters and gifts continued and Flowers enjoyed reading about their Christmas wish lists and the presents they actually got as well as other events in their lives.
The kids got attached too. When reports of casualties were broadcast on the news, the kids always asked if Flowers was alright. One little boy even thought about him every morning as they saluted the flag. The class welcomed him home when his deployment ended with banners, drawings and hugs. They saw him as one of their own classmates.
The second-grade class of New Kituwah Academy in Cherokee, N.C., a school which teaches its students only in the Cherokee language, is adept at using modern technology like iPads and MacBooks. Engaging with their sister school in Oklahoma through an iChat made the kids shy, however.
Their teacher Rainy Brake realized it wasn’t technology that would help the kids get to know one another so she implemented a letter writing program. When the first package of letters arrived it contained friendship bracelets, too. Necklaces were sent back with the return letters. The program has widened their horizons, helped with handwriting and made learning more fun and memorable, according to Brake.