"Dear First Grade Friends, I haven't seen any giraffes, but there was a dog with puppies and we adopted them." Such correspondence from U.S. Marine Corporal Christopher Fraser led to a friendship between his unit in Afghanistan and students at Vienna Elementary.
When Fraser, 24, returned from duty in Afghanistan in June of last year, he became a guest reader for his mother's first-grade class at the school. "It was great to see. [The students] not only physically, but emotionally, embraced him," said Sandra Fraser, a teacher at Vienna Elementary.
Seven months after returning from Afghanistan, Christopher Fraser is training in California and awaiting deployment to Iraq. However, thanks to the relationship with Vienna Elementary students, U.S. soldiers in Iraq will soon have a reason to feel at home. Each of the school's 368 students — regardless of their background, language or learning ability — made a Valentine's Day card for the soldiers, enhanced with candy and personal messages.
The motive behind the act is simple. "Because we love them and because we want to make them feel happy," said kindergartner Winston Agbara about why he made his card. Winston and the rest of Patti Green's kindergarten class made their cards on Thursday afternoon. Other students at the school made their cards earlier in the week.
Fifth grader Cassie Michalski said she enjoyed the project because she had a chance to personalize her card for a soldier far away. She said the soldiers were helping other people, and she wanted to make them feel good, because they are going through a lot. "Thank you for saving our country," she wrote on her heart-shaped card.
THERE IS MORE to the project than making cards to brighten up a soldier's day. Guidance counselor Beth Gross said she wanted to incorporate the lessons of empathy, the school's January theme, to a school-wide project. She said Valentine's Day was a perfect opportunity for the students to employ what they learned about empathy. "Think about if you were a soldier, far away from home, what would you want [to receive] for Valentine's Day," Gross said she would tell the students before they made the cards.
Sandra Fraser said the students understood very well what Gross and other teachers were teaching them. "They have taken it to heart, and they really understand the lessons of compassion and empathy," she said. According to Fraser, two Iraqi students, a fourth grader and a sixth grader, also made cards for the U.S. soldiers. She added that she was conflicted as to how she feels about her son's second deployment to a war zone in a short time. "Like all the other parents, I am just hoping they come home," she said.