Becoming pen pals with other students in neighboring elementary schools is a great class project. Some middle schools even have their lowest grades write to incoming students as a way to ease new students’ fears. While the opportunities to write to other students are great ones, there are other pen pals that you may want to consider for your class. For pen pals who not only write, but who also give students real life examples of bravery, valor, and patriotism, you may want to adopt a soldier as a class pen pal.
Adopting a Soldier
Finding a Pen Pal
If your school is near a military base, chances are that someone’s mother or father is currently deployed. Your class can adopt that soldier, or the entire platoon, for the length of their deployment or for the school year. Having that personal connection to a soldier can make all the difference for both your class and the pen pal. If you are not near a military base, there may still be someone in the school who has a parent who is deployed as part of the National Guard, or a teacher’s son or daughter who is currently serving overseas. While it may take some asking around, it is worth the effort to find someone with a connection.
If you cannot find anyone, there are some great organizations who pair up soldiers and platoons with pen pals. Adopt-A-Platoon is one of the most well known and organized groups. They will need plenty of verification that you are who you say you are, so be prepared to explain the whys and hows of your pen pal project. They are also very busy and work very hard to accommodate all soldiers’ requests, so be patient if you do not hear back from them right away.
What to Expect
Most soldiers who are adopted by your class will make every effort to embrace the pen pal relationship to the best of their ability. Keep in mind, and explain to the children, that their letters may be very few and far between. This is not due to a lack of interest, but rather to their very demanding reality of keeping our country safe. One of the best ways to explain this to your students is to emphasize that their job, as student pen pals, is to bring a smile to their soldier pen pal’s face with their letters and cards. By preparing students for the inevitable delays between letters, it makes the ones they do receive even more special. Even if a couple of months go by with no letter from your pen pal, do not stop writing.
How to Organize Letter Writing
There are many different ways that you can organize your class’ letters to your soldier pen pal. One way is to have each student write an individual letter on a sheet of paper and staple them together. Another clever way to make the letters and notes easy for the soldier to keep together, is to use a blank, soft cover journal. Students can write and edit their rough drafts and then copy them into the journal. Use students’ chair pockets to help facilitate the passing of the journal. As each student finishes copying in his letter, he can tuck an American flag on a stick inside the journal at the next available page and place it in his neighbor’s chair pocket. This not only ensures that the journal gets passed around the room, but the flag helps you keep track of where it is at all times.
No matter how you organize the class’ letters, the fact that your students have written will be the most important part of the experience for your soldier pen pal. That ever-so-important connection from home is a great morale booster for any serviceman or woman serving overseas. Soldiers may not be your first thought for class pen pals, but the very act of writing to them can teach your students so much about being an American.
Have you ever had students participate in a