Though Veterans Day is not celebrated until November, the students at Fannin Elementary School have been working for the past couple weeks on letters to send to soldiers on the other side of the world.
The letters and a care package Fannin resident teacher Aaron Gneiding and his wife are sending will go to a friend of Gneiding who recently moved with the U.S. Army to South Korea. All the students’ letters will then be distributed to the soldiers.
Due to the logistics of getting the letters to South Korea by Nov. 11, Gneiding said, he must send the letters within the week.
Gneiding, an aggieTERM resident teacher, spent four years in the Army, stationed at Fort Hood, and knows what it is like to receive letters from kids.
“It meant the world that other people were thinking of me,” Gneiding said. “Kids that don’t know me cared, and they were kind.”
He said he hopes the soldiers who receive his fourth grade students’ letters feel the same.
Each letter follows a template Gneiding created, allowing students to write three words and complete an analogy to describe soldiers and then a space to draw a picture of what they believe a U.S. Army soldier looks like.
One of those students, Jasmin Vergara, said she hopes the soldiers feel loved as they receive and open their letters.
Vergara described soldiers as brave, focused and helpful and said they are like superheroes because they are not scared. Classmate Cristian Hernandez described the soldiers as ants because they work “really hard” and thanked the soldiers for “protecting our place.”
“Thank you for what they [have] all done,” Vergara added.
Gneiding’s mentor teacher, Maria Isabel Lopez, said she is excited Gneiding has been able to bring such an opportunity to the classroom. Gneiding is part of Lopez’s fourth grade bilingual class through the aggieTERM program, in which Texas A&M seniors studying elementary education complete a year-long student teaching residency rather than a traditional one-semester student teaching experience.
Although the idea began in his classroom, with permission from campus administrators, Gneiding emailed employees throughout the campus to invite them and their classes to participate.
Classes in every grade level and employees throughout the school committed to writing letters. For the youngest students, that could mean just drawing a picture. About 200 letters had been collected Thursday, but the school expects to have about 400 to send.
Fannin Elementary School Principal Desiree Caperton said the project an example of the two-way relationship created by the aggieTERM program.
“It’s just awesome that we have the opportunity to gain from him as he’s gaining from us,” she said. “It’s really exciting because Aaron, it was his idea. He asked, and I said, ‘Yeah, do it.’ He sent out the email, and he’s collecting them. He made the template, so he’s really taken initiative, so it’s just neat that we can all support each other to do something that’s really kind.”
Gneiding’s conversation with his fourth grade students about his time in the Army began on the first day of school. Then, when they started working on the letters, he showed the students where South Korea is located on a map, because many did not know.
Through the experience, Gneiding said, he hopes the students learn more about kindness and gratitude, two of the Bryan school district’s Essential Eight character traits.
As the soldiers receive the letters, Gneiding said, “I hope they’re happy. I hope it’s like, ‘Wow, people that don’t even know me are thinking about me all the way in Texas. We’re in South Korea. That’s crazy.’ I’m hoping that maybe somebody writes me back; maybe at least one of them.”