Harlem High School students got to meet one of their pen pals last week.
Andrea Pangelinan, an Information Specialist on the USS Teddy Roosevelt, came to the school to visit those students who have been writing letters to her and her shipmates.
Word processing teacher Steve Strickland came up with the idea in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks.
"We wanted to do something after Sept. 11 to show our support," he said. "It was an opportunity to take an assignment and expand it and make it more meaningful and realistic. The USS Teddy Roosevelt has been in the news, so when I would see it, I would say, 'Hey guys, this is our ship.' It was nice to have a connection with what was going on over there."
Last semester he asked his students whether they had any family members overseas in the military. That's when ninth-grader Ashleigh Pangelinan stepped forward. Her sister, Andrea, who graduated from Harlem High two years ago, is serving on the USS Teddy Roosevelt which was deployed just after Sept. 11 and was involved in the initial attacks on Afghanistan.
His classes wrote about 100 letters addresses to "Any Service Member" and sent them to Andrea to pass out to her shipmates.
"I thought it was sweet," said Andrea, 20, who is on leave while the ship is docked at Norfolk, Va., for servicing. "It's really an honor to know that people back home are thinking about you and appreciate what you do."
Most of the letters, she said, ask about what life is like aboard the ship, what their routine is each day and what they do for fun.
"I just told them about me and what I do in my spare time; I mainly act in drama. I got a letter back last month. He was just telling me what he did in his spare time, like work out and stuff," freshman Ashlie Crabtree said.
Andrea responded to the letters and sent them a photo of the ship. Students received letters from other shipmates, too.
The Harlem letters were among many thy receive. She said they try to use their lunch breaks and free time to write back.
When she came to Harlem High School on Tuesday, Andrea brought patches - one to commemorate the Sept. 11 tragedy - photographs and the February issue of Vanity Fair which features a centerfold of the USS Teddy Roosevelt. Her mother Deborah Wilmoth pointed her out among the 5,000 waiving seamen.
In mid-March, the USS Teddy Roosevelt was headed back to Norfolk. Ashleigh made a large banner so that students and teachers who know Andrea could sign it. Ashleigh and her mom took the banner when they went to meet the ship March 27.
"With the letters that came back, it is nice that the students have someone over there they can connect with," Strickland said. "Being a military community, they can understand what it is like to have someone oversees. We want to continue to write letters and to try to make this a meaningful project."
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