Sixth-graders write letters to midshipmen

| March 2, 2021

The sixth-graders at Keene thanked the midshipmen for writing them back with this special banner for Valentine’s Day. (Submitted)

Gwenna Neal’s sixth-graders at Keene Elementary School had the opportunity this school year to bond with midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Neal’s son Sawyer, a graduate of River View High School, is a student at the academy. He and his fellow 14th Company Cobras were not able to come home for Thanksgiving, so Neal’s students wrote them letters.
Letter writing is one of Neal’s standards, so it fit right in with her lessons. She also was able to work in some conversation about the different service academies before the students wrote their letters.
“That was really meaningful,” Neal said. “College can be a (financial) struggle for a lot of students at River View. The military offers an education to our kids along with life-changing experiences.”
The students focused on the positives in their letters, encouraging the midshipmen and thanking them for their service.
“When I first received the letters, I was ecstatic at the idea of a pen pal with my home elementary, but I wasn’t sure how excited my company mates would be,” Sawyer said. “However, the response I received after I informed my company mates of the opportunity was overwhelming. I had people from all classes reach out to me about an opportunity to respond to one of the sixth-graders. It was a truly humbling and inspiring experience to watch my best friends, teammates and even my company commander write letters to kids from little old Coshocton, Ohio. Sometimes it’s too easy to forget how kind and compassionate people can be to one another, and this was the perfect reminder.”
The impact the letters made could easily be seen in the responses from the Cobras.
“It was incredible,” Neal said. “Some of them wrote them two- to three-page letters. One midshipman even took the anchor off his uniform and sent it. That student wears it every day. Some sent Cobra challenge coins too.”
The Keene sixth-graders wanted to thank their new friends, but because of remote days, they weren’t able to do it until around Valentine’s Day.
“They wanted to make a banner for them,” Neal said.
Neal took a picture of her students with the banner and Sawyer’s Navy Academy flag. The commander of the 14th Company Cobras then posted that picture on Facebook.
“A lot of the kids still carry these letters with them in their binders, and some said they have them in their rooms pinned up to a board,” Neal said.
Everyone who wrote a letter back to the Keene students was a volunteer.
“I received 27 letters from my mom, and once those were given away, I had people asking if they could write an extra one and address it to ‘Dear Sixth-grader,’” Sawyer said. “I read through every letter, and inspired would be an understatement. People were responding to these sixth-graders with the utmost thought and care put into each and every word. This was an amazing experience and opportunity, not only for me and my mother, but also the entire 14th Company here at the United States Naval Academy.”

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Category: Education

About the Author ()

I started my journalism career in 2002 with a daily newspaper chain. After various stops with them, I am happy to be back home! I graduated from Coshocton High School in 1998 and received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication in 2002 from Walsh University. I also earned several awards while working for daily papers, including being honored by Coshocton County’s veterans for the stories I wrote about them. I am honored and ready to once again shine a positive light on Coshocton County. I also am the proud mother of a little girl named Sophia!

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