"Peggy handed me some paper work for the Freedom Fund, which accepts letters and packages and distributes them to soldiers in Iraq," Kline said. "So I started with my students in summer school, having them write letters to the soldiers. We got such a great response that we just continued. The students got letters back, not just general letters, but specific letters with responses to questions that the students asked. They sent us pictures of themselves on a CD photo disc. Each student received about four or five letters."
Kline had such success with her letter writing campaign that she continued it with her regular students as the school year began in September.
"It's amazing," Kline said. "Every day, my mailbox is full of letters from Iraq. They're all very excited. They really have pen pals. We write the letters during language arts time and it really helps their writing skills. We're now trying to incorporate the letter-writing into the regular curriculum."
Kline's class received such a positive response that fellow third grade teacher Panama Schwarz implemented the program in her class.
"They just love it," Schwarz said. "They're getting letters constantly. Some received certificates. We received a flag that was flying on one of the reconnaissance jets and we received a picture of that flag flying over the jet. We're getting letters from soldiers from all over the country."
The third grade students have been thrilled to participate, especially since they received personalized letters from soldiers.
"I asked them what they eat," said third grader Kevin Diaz. "I asked what it was like to be a soldier and how they were being treated over there. I felt excited to get my letters back. It's a good feeling that they cared enough about us to write back. I want to keep writing as much as I can."
Amanda Oyareide also asked personalized questions.
"I wrote and asked what time did they get up every morning and is it a lot of hard work being a soldier," Oyareide said. "I felt excited and happy that they answered my letter. I felt like these were my new pen pals. I like writing and this helps my writing process. It's going to be a lot of practice for me to get better and better as a writer."
Not to be outdone, eighth grade teacher Dorothy DeGennaro started a letter-writing campaign in her class. DeGennaro has a nephew, First Lt. Nicholas Emma, who is from Middletown, N.J., currently stationed in Iraq with the 169th Company 15th CFB Transportation Division. Emma's company was just shipped out from Oklahoma on Dec. 30.
DeGennaro's class has adopted members of Emma's company and has been sending more than just letters, shipping out razors, toiletries, magazines. Each student has a specific soldier to write to.
While DeGennaro's class has yet to receive responses - their campaign just began recently and Emma relayed a message to his aunt that his company was concentrating on getting Iraq through last weekend's tumultuous elections - they are still excited to be a part of the campaign that has now filtered throughout Klein School.
"The kids are really getting into it," DeGennaro said. "It's much different than just receiving information from the news. This is more personal."
The eighth grade students are also excited to be part of the pen pal process.
"I thought the idea was kind of cool," said Heather Wagner. "We're going to be able to communicate with the soldiers in Iraq and show them that we care about them. They can get feedback from us. They can talk to us about their lives and we can talk to them about our lives. I think it's exciting."
"I never spoke or wrote to a soldier before, so it is exciting," said Andrew Torres. "I'm waiting to see if they reply. I want to be friends with them. I wrote to three soldiers. I hope to get back from at least one."
Alyssa Sorto felt compassion for the armed service members.
"It must be very difficult for them to be over there and away from their families for so long," Sorto said. "I want to be able to write to them, find out what they were like when they were our ages. I want to help them be more comfortable as they serve our country."
Needless to say, the simple writing assignment has taken a life of its own, one that has certainly pleased Guttenberg Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Penna.
"I'm especially proud of our students and our staff for trying to reach out and help our service people in Iraq," Penna said. "The children are learning social and writing skills. Everyone comes out ahead in this project. I think it's absolutely wonderful."
Kline never thought her simple assignment would become this grandiose.
"It really is amazing," Kline said. "It's turned out so well."