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Flying their flag: Maxwell-made banner travels to Iraq and back

The war in Iraq is touching the lives of kindergarten students at Maxwell Elementary School and enhancing their education. The two classes have adopted a student's father who is serving in Iraq as a civilian firefighter and rescue worker. As a result, a flag was flown during a combat mission in the classes' honor.

Thomson resident Missy Simons said she spoke with her son Breyden's teacher at the beginning of the year about the class doing a project for his father, Tom Hopkins, who had just left for Iraq. Ms. Simons said she felt it would help Breyden during his separation from his father, as well as help the other children learn about serving their country.

"I think more people should do things like this... It doesn't matter what our opinion of the war is," said Breyden's teacher, Melissa Welch. "What matters is our people over there need to be exalted for what they are doing... They live in danger... Just simple things like a care package. Do anything. God will put it in the right hands."

During class, Mrs. Welch said they all gather around the computer and email Mr. Hopkins. The students dictate while Mrs. Welch types, and they receive a reply from Mr. Hopkins that same day or the next.

"I think the kids know that people are pulling together to protect our country, but in kindergarten, they don't know a lot about geography and where Iraq is," Mrs. Welch said.

The two teachers, Mrs. Welch and Becky Morlan, said they incorporate Mr. Hopkins into almost all of their subjects. For instance, when they were learning how the earth revolves around the sun, Mrs. Welch said the students already knew about the time difference between them and Mr. Hopkins, so she was able to compare how the sun was shining in Iraq and Thomson.

During a lesson on the United States, Mrs. Morlan said they came up with the idea of making a flag for Mr. Hopkins and the other men in his unit. The two classes made one large paper American flag, using the children's painted handprints for the red stripes and a blue background, and wrote each students name on a star.

"We could not have done it without the help of our parapros, Tonya Stephens and Donna Shelton," Mrs. Morlan said.

The men in Mr. Hopkins unit appreciated the flag so much that they each autographed the flag and wrote a note to the students, such as "You guys rock," or "Nice job." The men posed for a picture with the flag and then mailed it back to the students. Mrs. Welch said the children "were thrilled," and asked her to read those notes over and over.

The soldiers in the unit also sent back a flag that they flew in the students' honor and a certificate: "This is to certify that this flag was flown in combat over Iraq during Operation Iraqi freedom IV aboard the aircraft... in honor of Maxwell Elementary School."

And the generosity didn't stop there. The students sent a care package to the unit containing small, individual flags, personal care items, notebooks and ornaments that the children painted. Mrs. Welch said one student, Elizabeth Stevenson, gathered "a whole lot of stuff" for the package.

"Her eyes were so bright when she brought the stuff in," Mrs. Welch said. "They truly exemplified the meaning that it is better to give than to receive."

Mr. Hopkins told Ms. Simons that he was honored by all the attention from the students and would like to thank the class for everything.

"He talked about it in an email, how lonely soldiers get over there," Mrs. Welch said. "They don't care what's in the care package, it's just the thought that they knew we were thinking about them."

Mr. Hopkins visited the students and attended a Renaissance Rally at MES when he was home for Christmas. Ms. Simons said he will have another 10-day break in May, just in time to attend field day at the school.

"Breyden just misses him so much," Ms. Simons said. "He thinks the world revolves around his Daddy. ... He gets excited every time his Dad writes to the class."

Web posted on Thursday, May 10, 2007

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