Halloween took on new meaning this year for grade 8 students in Cyrus Merrill’s history class, who donated care packages filled with thank you letters and candy to American troops stationed around the world, including in Afghanistan.
Last year when Merrill and his students launched the project, they were thrilled to receive responses from some of the soldiers, who expressed their appreciation for the packages and also included an official certificate from troops serving in Afghanistan’s Combined Joint Task Force-10, Regional Command-East and the 10th Mountain Division. The students also received personal notes from a few other soldiers stationed elsewhere.
“The thank you from troops in Afghanistan came as a result of this simple act, which was one of several citizenship activities and charity projects blended into my course,” reported Merrill. The letter from the soldiers in Afghanistan also included an explanation of the goals and accomplishments of that particular military unit.
This year, the care packages once again included nut-free candy sealed in Ziploc bags, packaged along with a “thank you for serving” letter addressed to “Any American Soldier.” There were no stickers, construction paper or glitter allowed (apparently due to problems with soldiers’ ability to view them through night vision goggles), just simple notes and drawings.
“The packages were sent to U.S. troops stationed around the globe. The candy served as either treats for soldiers or for them to hand out to children living around where they are stationed,” said Merrill.
Students had written the letters that went along with the Halloween care packages during their advisory periods and in Merrill’s history class. In the notes, students were instructed to offer a “tiny slice of life back home.”
“The students had fun writing about things like what they did on vacations, happenings in their families, descriptions of their pets, what they like to eat, favorite movies … anything Americana-ish,” Merrill elaborated.
The timing of the note writing also made it possible for students to reflect on and inform the soldiers about their recent Grade 8 Trip to Washington, D.C., and their often newfound passion and interest in the American government.
Each year, in addition to the Halloween care package project, Merrill’s history students write letters to their national representatives in Washington, D.C., about reform issues, expressing concerns over such topics as mental health, alcohol related topics, and the treatment and protection of women. Such efforts are part of Merrill’s hands-on philosophy of “making history and not just studying it.”