NEW ULM - A dad in military service overseas, a family back home, a fifth-grade class anxious to support a classmate, a group of adults willing to build and maintain connections...
When mixed together by a compassionate, creative teacher, these elements combine into a classroom learning opportunity and an even more memorable life lesson; telling a story of character and patriotism gently nurtured.
Bradley Wilfahrt is a student in Tammy Yakley's fifth-grade class at Washington School. This year his father, Aaron, was deployed to Kuwait.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Fifth-grade students in Tammy Yakley’s class at Washington Elementary School in New Ulm raise a flag Thursday morning that had flown in Kuwait. National Guard member Aaron Wilfahrt brought the flag to his son Bradley’s (center left with back to camera) class when he recently returned from being deployed.
For more photos of this event go to cu.nujournal.com.
When Yakley found out last fall that Bradley would be in her class, she wanted to do something to try to support him and his family during this time.
"I was looking for a way to keep connected with Aaron (Bradley's dad)," Yakley shared in an email.
"I love being able to incorporate technology and thought it might be fun to Skype with Aaron. I contacted Jill (Aaron's wife) and talked to her a bit about what we could do to help Bradley."
Yakley divided her class up into groups of four and assigned a month to each group. The group was responsible for doing some research on questions they wanted to know about Aaron's job, Kuwait, the weather, ecosystems, etc. Each month, the class would contact Aaron via Skype and would hold a question-and-answer session with him.
The students learned a lot about Kuwait: the country's money, the way its people look, jobs, animals and weather. They also learned about the job Aaron and his National Guard unit were doing.
"This gave all the students a chance to get to know Aaron, some history and geography, as well as gave Bradley a chance to talk with his dad," said Yakley.
"It gave Aaron the chance to see what school was like for Bradley, too. It was a little something we could do, and the class so looked forward to this each month."
In October, the class sent letters to the troops, and in November, the entire fifth grade sent Thanksgiving pictures with notes of thankfulness to them. Aaron's unit sent the students a picture of themselves, which was hung up in the school office.
In January, Aaron came home on leave and visited Yakley's class to meet the students in person. He brought money from Kuwait and explained the area in more detail.
As the troops were planning their return, the class was kept abreast and kept a countdown.
"The entire class was so excited and thrilled for Bradley," Yakley said.
The students made posters, and many of them made it to the parade on the Sunday when the troops returned. The American Legion donated flags for the students to wave at the parade.
Last Friday, Aaron and Jill visited the class. Aaron made a slide show of his photos and explained them, from a one-humped camel to sand storms and the equipment used by troops.
As a thank-you for the students' support to him and his family, Aaron had flown an American flag over his base in Kuwait for a day. During the classroom visit, he presented that flag, along with a certificate, to Yakley and the class.
The students decided that they wanted to wave the flag over their school. In a morning ceremony this Thursday, the flag was raised over the school.