QUINTER — A large bulletin board in Marcia Leon's third-grade classroom at Quinter Elementary School features a U.S. Marine serving in Afghanistan with whom the students are corresponding this year.
Third-grader Abby Herl pretty much summed it up.
"We get to talk to a hero of our world," she said, referring to Lt. Rob Sherwood, whom students affectionately call "Lt. Rob."
One of Leon's former students, Tracy Oliveira, now lives in Virginia and is married to a Marine. She wrote Leon last fall asking if the class would like to be pen pals with a Marine friend of hers during his tour of duty in Afghanistan.
So began the class' correspondence with Sherwood, who has turned out to be no ordinary pen pal.
"I thought that would be a blessing for him," Leon said. "It's turned out to be the opposite. It's (a blessing) for me and my kids."
The connection with a man they have never met goes way beyond sending care packages. The students exchange letters with Sherwood, both via the U.S. mail and e-mail.
While e-mails are faster, Leon said, "I wanted the kids to have the experience of writing letters, the old-fashioned 'you-write-me-a-letter, you-get-a-letter-back.' "
When they began the project in the fall, Leon and her class chose 20 subjects about which to write to Sherwood.
"I thought that way they wouldn't all be asking him the same things," Leon said. "Each one had their own topic."
Topics ranged from asking about Sherwood's responsibilities to telling him about a worm farm the students made or Christmas baking.
Sherwood answered the questions and told the class about his family and his duties in Afghanistan.
Sherwood is in the students' thoughts daily. They talk about the weather, in Quinter and Afghanistan, and cover subjects all across the curriculum while discussing their newfound friend.
They make a sentence about math, and talk about ecosystems in science and customs of Afghanistan for social studies.
They have made a theme study of the project and discuss three areas listed on the bulletin board: 1) What we know; 2) What we want to know; and 3) What we have learned.
"We think about him, talk about him, every day," Leon said.
When Sherwood received handmade Christmas wreaths from the children, he arranged them in the form of a Christmas tree on the wall of his office, then took a photo of himself in front of the tree and sent it to the students.
"That solidified the whole project, that he is a real person," Leon said. "They were really excited when we received that photo, but they screamed when they heard about the flag."
Leon's class is anticipating the arrival of an American flag that flew in Afghanistan that Sherwood promised to send to the class.
The students now are celebrating a promotion. Sherwood recently told them that he will become captain, and his young friends already are calling him "Capt. Rob."
In honor of his promotion, the students are working on a tied fleece blanket, with all of their names embroidered on it, to send to him.
One of the students, Harley Cook, closed her letter saying, "We are proud of the work you do for our country!"
"My biggest dream," Leon said, "is to meet him in person someday."