WES students write 404 letters for Bert's Big Thank You campaign

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Students at White Elementary School understand the significance of what America's military men and women are doing for their country. 

And they appreciate it. 

For the fifth year, the pre-K through fifth-grade students participated in Bert's Big Thank You, a holiday letter-writing campaign started several years ago by Q99.7 deejay Bert Weiss to thank the country's troops for their service.      

"Every single soldier deployed outside the United States deserves to receive a letter of gratitude on Thanksgiving Day," The Bert Show website said. "We want to give our troops a 'Big Thank You' with a little taste of home this Thanksgiving." 

The campaign has resulted in more than a million handwritten letters of gratitude from Bert Show listeners getting into the hands of every serviceman and woman who were away from their families during the holidays, the website said.

At WES, students broke the school's previous record set last year by voluntarily writing 404 letters between mid-September and Oct. 11, "a significant increase from the 236 we received in 2018," said first-grade teacher Jenna Ray, who coordinated this year's campaign with special education teacher Rhonda Bryson.  

"I was blown away," she said. "It made me feel proud that so many kids would take the time to help make someone else feel special, cared for and important."

Bryson said she was "proud of our teachers and students for the enthusiasm and kindness they put into seeing these letters written."

Ray said she brought the Bert’s Big Thank You project with her when she began teaching at White in 2015. 

"That first year, it was only my kindergarten class that participated," she said, noting she had organized the campaign "for many years before that" at her former job. "They had so much fun, and I wanted to share it with the other classes at the school. In previous years, I’ve also partnered with English teachers and students at Cass High School to write letters as well." 

Her relationship with members of the military is what fueled Ray's desire to take part in the letter-writing project. 

"I've been blessed with knowing, working with and being friends with many wonderful servicemen and women over the years," she said. "I've heard firsthand about the impact these letters can make. I also like the idea of getting children involved with giving back to their community and the world around them at a young age. I've written a letter, sometimes more than one, for the past 10 years, and I've felt so much joy being able to share this experience with my students." 

Bryson said when the educators were planning their schoolwide events for the year, "some kind of recognition for our military was at the top of the list."

"Our teachers selected this activity last spring as something everyone wanted to do," she said. "Part of our PBIS [positive behavioral interventions and supports] pledge is 'Give Respect, Get Respect.' This activity illustrates that beautifully. It was an excellent way for our students to show respect for those who serve." 

Ray said the project has been on the school calendar since the beginning of the year "so teachers knew the deadline ahead of time and could schedule in a lesson" if they wanted their students to participate.

"Teachers can use it as an opportunity to teach about the components of writing a letter or discuss careers in the armed services, but writing the letter itself is voluntary," she said, noting the letters "started pouring in" in early October.

The campaign itself has specific guidelines for the letters — handwritten, letter-sized paper, no glue or glitter — but the content came directly from the students, Ray said. 

"For lower grade levels, we might do a group writing activity or provide them with sentence frames, but we let the students drive what's being said," she said. "The older students have freedom in what and how they write. The kids are very creative, and I've seen so many wonderful products over the years." 

"The guidelines were simply to say thank you and to wish their service person a Happy Thanksgiving," Bryson added, noting some students also drew pictures to accompany their letters.

The bundles of Thanksgiving wishes were to be dropped off at Ingles, which is sponsoring the project,  sometime Friday for delivery to Q99.7, according to Bryson.

Ray added she's hand-delivered them to the radio station in the past, but she's "so thankful they partnered with Ingles this year."

She also wanted to encourage other people to "take a few minutes and consider writing their own letter or letters with their family."

The deadline for turning in letters is Monday, Oct. 28, and they can be dropped off at most Ingles locations,  including the two Cartersville stores at 825 West Ave. and 879 Joe Frank Harris Parkway, or mailed or delivered to the radio station at 780 Johnson Ferry Road NE, Fifth Floor, Atlanta, GA 30342.
 
For more information on the project, visit http://thebertshow.com/articles/bigthankyou/.