Letters fly between school, aircraft carrier

Mail received by students in the third-grade class at St. James Catholic School in La Crescenta has a distinctly international flair. Cards and letters are postmarked from Malaysia, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

But as exotic as the locations are, what most fascinates the students are the men and women who author them. Five months into a pen-pal project with United States sailors stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, students are enhancing their writing skills while also getting to know members of the Armed Services.

“I don’t know if it is doing more for them or for us,” said third-grade teacher Teresa Denton. “The letters tell [the students] how much they appreciate it. They take the time in the letters to talk to these kids on their level.”

To get the letter exchange off the ground, Denton turned to her nephew, 30-year-old Lt. Scott Long, currently deployed with the Vinson in the Persian Gulf. He recruited 10 colleagues with a variety of jobs, including pilots and communications experts.

“I see how hard they work and I have so much respect for what they do and I thought maybe I could have an impact in improving their lives,” Denton said.

The project allows students to develop their writing skills and improve their penmanship, Denton said. It also affords them the opportunity to learn about foreign countries. Each time a student receives a letter from a new location, they find it on the class map.

The hardest part for students is the long time lapse between letters, Denton said. The mail is routed through a U.S. base in the Middle East, meaning it can take weeks for it to arrive.

Topics covered in the letters include favorite colors and sports, school and work activities. Some students sent their pen pals Girl Scout cookies and Valentine’s Day candy.

“It is fun because they are on a huge ship,” said 9-year-old Sean Metz. “The post cards have amazing things on them.”

Students are responsible for composing a first draft, and then rewriting it with the appropriate corrections, Denton said. The project recently expanded to include the first-grade class.

“It is not a quick, hi [and] bye,” Denton said. “It is explaining about themselves. I am hoping from their point of view they appreciate it and that is why they are putting the time into. They can’t be kinder or more respectful to these kids.”

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