Middlebury students write letters to soldiers in Afghanistan

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Union Middle School students have routinely taken on community service projects around this time of year. True to form, several classes took up various charitable causes that were complemented with fund drives.
But science teacher Shannon Warden’s 8th-grade class decided to do something different. The class, with the help of other students, staff and administrators, decided to write letters to American troops serving overseas in hopes of soothing their disappointment at not being with their families for the holidays.
“The goal was to bring some holiday cheer to people thousands of miles away who couldn’t be here,” Warden said of the assignment, which yielded more than 170 letters that have been sent — along with candy canes — to service men and women in Afghanistan.
“I think it gave the students some perspective.”
It’s a project that also struck a personal chord in Warden, whose brother served a tour overseas several years ago. Through her family’s experiences, the students began to discuss global conflicts and the challenges the soldiers face on the front lines and on the home front.
“Some of the students didn’t think there were any (soldiers) still over there,” Warden said, noting recent publicity about the U.S. pulling its last troops out of Iraq.
But the students quickly realized that American troops remain in Afghanistan, where tensions and violence continue to simmer. And they felt sorry that the soldiers, in addition to being in harm’s way, would not be able to celebrate the holidays with their loved ones.
They decided to express those sentiments on paper to let the soldiers know how they felt. So Warden personally bought more than 150 cards for the students to write their messages.
Students put a lot of thought into what they wrote on the cards.
“A lot of messages thanked the soldiers for their service, and ‘I’m sorry you can’t be home for the holidays,’” Warden said. One student expressed gratitude for being able to sleep safely at night because of the efforts of the troops.
“I think we wrote to the soldiers because they deserve to know that people care what they are doing,” said student Jack Hounchell. “It felt good to write to the soldiers because I feel like I made them feel they know they are appreciated.”
“I think that it was important to write these letters because it shows that we do care, we just may not always show it,” said student Breanna Lepri.
“It’s a very good feeling to know that you brought some cheer to a soldier,” said student Kelsey Smith.
Warden was impressed with how students took to the assignment, which began in mid-December. Students took extra cards to fill out in study hall. Teachers and administrators — including Principal Inga Duktig — joined the effort. One student filled out 11 cards.
“He said, ‘Every soldier deserves a card, especially at this time of year,’” Warden said of the prolific student.
By the last day of the assignment, Dec. 22, participants had filled out 173 cards, well beyond the original goal of 150. Students also brought in candy canes to include in the box that would be sent to the soldiers. Warden herself brought in candy canes for all her students as an extra treat for a job well done. The vast majority of the students elected to place their treats into the box.
A representative of the Vermont National Guard Readiness Group gratefully accepted the gift box, which will be sent to a Green Mountain soldier in Afghanistan. That soldier is expected in turn to share the contents with colleagues in his unit.
Warden is pleased with how the project turned out — both for the soldiers and her students.
“I think it gave (the students) some perspective,” Warden said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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