Clinton 3rd graders forge unique friendship with military pen pals

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CLINTON (WATE) – Like clockwork, every day a block of time is carved out for the South Clinton Elementary School’s enrichment program.

“This particular year though, their teachers wanted them to work on writing,” said library media specialist Teresa Schlandt.

Specifically, they wanted the students to work on letter writing. A quick Google search led Mrs. Schlandt to the idea of writing to our troops, but how remained the big question.

A few Phi Mu Sorority sisters from Tennessee Tech got the ball rolling.

“So she shoots back, first confirmation: Aaron Leopold,” said Schlandt.

Then John Sharp, Drake Fleming, Will Davis, Aaron Watson and Andrew Scott were confirmed, giving all six girls a soldier to write to.

Schlandt never thought pencil and paper would forge such a unique bond between Isabella Webb, Sydney May, Hannah Cook, Kenna Shewbrooks, Kinley Crowley and Izzy Woods.

“Everything just kind of came together,” said Schlandt.

“I didn’t know I’d get so much satisfaction out of it,” said Lt. Drake Fleming with the United States Army Aviation. “To the point to where I would be waiting on those letters and my wife, she would go, ‘Hey you got a letter! I’m going to open it!’ And I went, ‘You’re not opening my letters! Those are my letters!'”

F/Lt. Aaron Leopold and Lt. Drake Fleming both went to West Point Military Academy together.

“When I started doing it I was like, ‘Oh, this will be really nice to write to this girl and write to the class,’ and plus I can’t say no to Drake’s mom because she’s the boss, but you know as it turned out I’ve gotten a lot out of it as well,” said Lt. Leopold.

It was more than he could have imagined from Isabella Webb, 8.

“He’s got red hair like me,” said Webb.

“So yeah, she did ask me about ‘National Redheaded Day,’ which I thought was hilarious,” said F/Lt. Leopold.

“He said he didn’t know about it and he would mark it on his calendar,” said Webb.

“The questions that Isabella asks, they definitely make me have to reflect on why I do the things I do,” said F/Lt. Leopold. “And in that way it’s changed me for the better.”

Schlandt says the assignment has come to take a life of its own.

Letters can only come every so often so in between the girls are constantly researching what their pen pals are writing about, even critiquing their writing skills.

“It’s unlimited the different types of things you can study,” said Schlandt.

In return, the girls have learned much more than the proper way to write a letter, they’ve learned how to build new friendships no distance can come between.

“He’s a lot like me, he acted a lot like me in the third grade,” said Drake Fleming’s pen pal, Izzy Woods.

“She said she liked softball, reading, art, being silly, playing with her dog and sleeping,” said Lt. Fleming. “I was like hey that sounds a lot like me when I was in third grade. I mean that sounds a lot like me right now!”

“When they come in, the first thing they want to know or even when they see me in the hallway they’re looking at me because I think they can tell in my eyes if I’ve got a letter or not and they’re like, ‘Do we have a letter? do we have a letter?”

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