While most teachers discuss war with their classes, many find that both they and their students also want to do something concrete to help U.S. troops abroad. Included: A list of organizations that link students or classes with deployed servicemen and women.
Many teachers may want to extend their lessons by inviting students to write letters and send "care packages" to U.S. servicemen and women abroad. Some classes already are "veterans" of these types of activities.
Maureen Danforth's fifth-grade class at Fogarty Memorial School in Glocester, Rhode Island sent letters and packages to U.S troops in Afghanistan through the AdoptaPlatoon program.
Danforth suggested the program to her students after they said they wanted to mark the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with an activity. "The kids decided that instead of having a somber ceremony, they wanted to take action," Danforth told Education World.
"So I suggested adopting a platoon," Danforth added. "I had seen something online about it. They loved the idea right from the start. They love the idea of supporting the men and women who are keeping us safe. They love knowing that they are making a difference in the quality of life for our platoon. The students get letters back from some of the men and they are amazed at how much their letters and packages mean to them. One man told us that the letters get passed around so everyone in the platoon reads all of them!"
The class received monthly letters from the platoon's chaplain, who sometimes sends pictures as well. Individual soldiers also have written letters.
Participation in the project builds students' writing skills and sense of responsibility. The class is divided into four groups, and each week a group is responsible for writing a letter. "The kids know that the guys in our platoon look forward to hearing from us, so they know they have to do this because they are committed," Danforth continued. "We also send monthly packages, and they know the guys depend on those packages."
Shipping costs were becoming a problem, so the students had to brainstorm a solution. "I thought they would vote to abandon mailing packages, but instead, they met with our PTO and came up with a fundraiser," said Danforth. "The students sold Thanksgiving pies made by a local orchard and they raised almost $600 [for postage].
"We also have learned a lot about Afghanistan," through the program, she added.
Getting involved with AdoptaPlatoon alleviates some of the helplessness students might experience during uncertain times, and makes them feel that they can make a difference. But getting involved also brings them closer to war's realities. "You do need to be prepared if something bad happens," Danforth told Education World. "We had one of our guys die right before Christmas. The kids were really mature about it; they immediately asked where they could send sympathy cards. It was a hard lesson to learn; that war is not all winning and glory, but it was a good way to learn how to deal with something like that."
CONNECTING KIDS AND SOLDIERS
While the U.S. Department of Defense and other service-connected groups know how eager people are to support deployed servicemen and women, right now mail cannot be delivered to most troops in Iraq and Kuwait because they are mobile, according to Austin Camacho, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense. Students can mail letters and packages, but they will not catch up to the troops for a while, Camacho said.
Also, because of security concerns and transportation issues, mail no longer can be sent addressed to "Any Serviceman," Camacho added. Any letters or packages must be addressed to a serviceman or woman by name.
Note: Some programs are on hold because the public's generosity has provided organizations with so many items that there is a mailing backlog, so read the sites carefully.
Following are some of the groups that are putting people in touch with U.S. troops:
The American Red Cross
The American Red Cross's Quality of Life program supports military members and their families. The program seeks items such as toiletries, paperback books, and snacks to send to troops overseas. Items will be managed in a secure manner and sent from Red Cross chapter offices to Red Cross personnel deployed with U.S. servicemen and women. Because of unfolding events, the Red Cross cannot promise that collected items can be sent to a specific location.
Currently, the Red Cross has a moratorium on collecting items for troops, because it received so many donations. Schools considering mailing items through the Red Cross should check with their local Red Cross chapters before sending anything.
AdoptaPlatoon is a volunteer non-profit organization. Teachers can apply to correspond with a whole platoon or set up e-mail correspondence with individual soldiers. The site also offers guidelines on what to send to servicemen and women overseas.
Operation Military Pride
This volunteer organization offers a variety of activities for supporting troops, such as writing letters, drawing, and sending cards and packages.