ESOL Students Get to Meet Army Pen Pal

ESOL Students Get to Meet Army Pen Pal

Christina Simpson had just left her two daughters with her sister in Norfolk. She was preparing for another deployment to Okinawa, Japan, and had to say good-bye to them for four months.

However, rather than spending the time commiserating, she chose to do something positive; she paid a visit to her friends at Walt Whitman Middle School. She hadn't met them before, but the students in Jan Northrop's ESOL class had been sending letters to her as part of a program sponsored by Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS).

In her civilian life, Simpson is a FCPS employee and serves as a transportation supervisor with the J.E.B. Stuart pyramid; as an army reservist she is Staff Sergeant Simpson and is currently assigned to the supply division at Okinawa.

Northrop said that the students were excited when Simpson started sending them e-mails in response to their letters; they were even more thrilled to actually meet their pen pal in person.

"As an educator, you want to offer students an opportunity for real-life education. We're so excited; these kids know the value of their freedom and the importance of what she's doing," said Northrop.

Last Tuesday, the students from Northrop's class assembled in Whitman's auditorium to meet Simpson and ask her questions. Principal Otha Davis introduced her by saying, "I think this is a wonderful opportunity to meet somebody who you've talked to on the phone and heard from via e-mail."

SIMPSON ANSWERED all kinds of questions, everything from where she lives to what kind of weapons she carries. When not deployed, Simpson lives in Lorton. She said she serves in Okinawa with 22 other reservists from Fort Belvoir. She hasn't been shot, but she does carry an M-16 at all times; she's also qualified to handle a 9mm gun and hand grenades.

Simpson was home on leave after serving in Okinawa since last June. She was active military more than three years, but decided to join the reserves when her daughter was born. She's been in the reserves for nine years and said, "I love the Army."

Mary Fee, who helped to coordinate the program, asked if it was hard to adapt to the Japanese culture. Simpson said that they're usually on base so most things are American; she said that they did take a week-long course on Japanese culture and that she has been to Tokyo. She said that they reside in Marine quarters, which are stricter than Army accommodations. Her room is very small, but she has a microwave and a refrigerator.

When a student asked what she did during the day, she said that she slept; Simpson is on the night shift and works six days on, two days off. Her responsibility is to process the 1,500 or so military personnel going to the Philippines every month. Simpson said that she hasn't been to Iraq, but that she will be going to Kuwait in February for 60 days.

When asked if she gets scared, she said, "Everyday, but you make sure you choose the safe route and always take a buddy."

She also talked about typhoon season, which sounded pretty harrowing. She said that winds can get up to 225 mph; when typhoons are severe, the base is under lock-down and nobody is allowed to be outside. She has seen windows blown out of buildings and cars flipped on their sides.

Simpson was not looking forward to the long 15-hour flight back to Japan.

"I want to fly back one more time in April and not go back," she said.