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Students get visit from special pen pals

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Ryleigh Nash never expected to get to meet a person she had actually written to, but there was U.S. Army Pfc. John Hernandez speaking to her and her classmates at Blanton Elementary in Lantana on Tuesday afternoon.

“It was really cool. I learned a lot,” said Nash of meeting her would-be pen pal.

Hernandez and his cousin, Army Pvt. Jesse Gomez,  recently visited Blanton as part of a letter-writing lesson in Kelly Griffeth’s second-grade class.

Griffeth said she wanted her students to be able to write to someone who could write back, possibly starting a pen pal relationship and helping them develop their letter writing skills better. When she learned that one of her students, Samantha Gomez, had an older brother in the army, Griffeth said she sought out the family to see if Gomez would be interested in getting his unit involved.

Gomez agreed, saying he thought it would be a good morale booster for the guys in his unit.

“I was excited to do it,” said Gomez, a Ryan High graduate. “I knew how much it would mean to my little sister and how excited the guys would be to hear from her and other second graders asking questions. I know another unit was doing something similar with some students in Georgia and those guys got a kick out of reading those letters.”
Griffeth recruited all five second-grade classes at Blanton to write letters to Gomez, Hernandez and other soldiers in their unit. Blanton students eventually sent more than 150 letters, with several getting hand-written responses from their new pen pals on the recent visit.

The soldiers spent time with the students in Griffeth’s class, talking about the military, sharing funny training stories and answering questions. Gomez said it was fun and added that he intends to keep delivering letters to his unit during their stint in Afghanistan as long as the Blanton students keep sending them.

Griffeth said she didn’t think that would be a problem.

“We wanted to try and keep correspondence with them throughout the year, so we’ll keep writing,” said Griffeth.  “And now that we know them, and know that they’re reading our letters, it makes it much more special.”

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