St. James Students Become Pen Pals with Soldiers at Sea

Tereas Denton, third grade teacher at St. James Elementary School in La Crescenta, has started a pen pal program with her class. The inspiration came from Denton’s nephew, naval Lt. Scott Long, stationed at sea on the USS Carl Vinson. Long told his aunt that some of the men and women have been on the ship since November 2010 with many scheduled to return to the states in June 2011.

Each student in Denton’s third grade class has their own pen pal to write to weekly. There are over 6,000 soldiers on the ship and many answer the letters, responding to the students’ questions. According to Denton, the students love receiving the letters and listening to the replies.

Denton has each student who receives a letter from their pen pal open the letter and read it out loud to the class. Then she places the letter in a plastic sleeve and the student can take it home to show their parents before it is placed on the class bulletin board display.

The children enjoy hearing about the similarities between them and the military personnel. For example, one student who received a letter was excited to hear that his pen pal, Lt. Hunter “Gump” Parden, 26, loved to play with Legos when he was in third grade. This revelation received a big cheer from all the boys in the class.

“I think they are all very important people and I am asking them to send pictures of themselves soon,” said the student.

The class made a poster that they are going to mail to the ship. They are also asking their pen pals to pose for a picture with the poster and mail the photo.

Fellow teachers at St. James have adopted the program. Kindergarten teacher Betsy Savant now has her class writing letters to Denton’s nephew and they are eager to get a response.

Savant said, “I would cry reading the letters that came to the third grade class and I had to be a part of it. The kindergarten students are young and are only all writing to one soldier, but are so excited to be a part of the process.”

The men and women of the USS Carl Vinson have been sending letters, postcards, and even photos to the class. They answer the students’ questions and even ask some of their own to help start a dialog with the children.

Denton doesn’t dwell on the war aspect, but said, “We do talk about how they are protecting those who can’t protect themselves.” One solider wrote to a student and told him, “Learn something new everyday.” The students respect these letters and said that even though it takes a long time to get them from the ship, it is worth the wait.

Contributed by Tricia FLYNN