"The most surprising thing about this partnership is the enthusiasm and dedication of the sailors on board the ship," reveals Mischelle Keller. "Not only do the sailors give up their time for our students whenever they are in port, but they also continue those relationships while they are deployed."
A third-grade teacher and partnership coordinator, Keller was instrumental in establishing the connection between Arrowhead Elementary School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and the USS San Jacinto, a large Navy cruiser that is stationed in nearby Norfolk. Since 2005, the sailors have helped teachers at the school with making copies, tutoring, and reading to students. When the ship prepared to deploy for six months, Keller asked the Chief Master-at-Arms on board -- her husband, Ian -- if the crew would consider a collaborative pen pal program with the third graders.
USS San Jacinto (courtesy of the U.S. Navy)
"Crew members wrote letters and sent back treats from the different countries they visited," Keller told Education World. "The week the ship returned, the sailors showed up to have lunch with their pen pals and brought them ship's coins. The look on the students' faces when they saw their pen pals again and received the coins from their mentors was priceless."
The San Jacinto is currently deployed, so its pen pal program with Arrowhead Elementary is maintaining the link from school to ship across the miles. The partnership liaison on board is Chaplain Christian, who has arranged for other commands to fill the void at school until the cruiser returns. Although they aren't seeing the same faces each week, the ongoing support of all of the soldiers is reassuring and beneficial to students and teachers.
"The sailors from the ship, who are mostly men, give the students a positive, successful role model to look up to," Keller added. "The sailors encourage the students to try harder, to reach for their goals. They ask about the students' grades, help them study, and take an interest in their lives."