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Royal Oaks Elementary students, and Anna Mueller's father Rich who initiated the project, pose with the flag, which flew on base, and plaque that the solders sent back to the students to show their appreciation for the picture.

Art project connects local students, overseas soldiers

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For many people, the war in Afghanistan is a world away. But for others it reaches closer to home.

The war became a little more real for Royal Oaks Elementary third graders earlier this month when they made a connection with an army troop in Afghanistan.

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Anna Mueller, a student in Jill Brown's art class, had drawn a picture for her uncle who was serving overseas and it was her father who then approached Brown about possibly having the students draw pictures for all of the soldiers.

"Apparently all the guys in the unit were giving him a hard time," Brown said of Anna's uncle. "When Anna's father asked me if I would ever have some time to make some pictures to send over there, we kind of just decided to do it."

Brown said she decided to have the project be strictly third grade because of the connection.

Brown said she gave her students very little direction for the pictures except that they should be something positive.

"A lot of them like to draw pictures of fighting and war and soldiers but you know they probably don't need pictures of that," she said. "So I told them to draw something that would make them smile.

"Some of them said thank you, some of them were pictures that were just pretty; others were just something happy."

Brown said she talked with students a little bit about the soldiers and the country in Afghanistan, but she didn't want to necessarily focus on the war itself.

"We didn't talk a lot about the war because I wanted to focus it on helping someone," she said. "But the students knew because someone is talking to them about it."

Additionally, students had the option of writing notes on the back of the pictures as well.

During the project, Brown found out that another of her students had a father who was in the process of being deployed, so the class decided to send half the pictures to him and half the pictures to the original troop in Afghanistan.

"It was really neat to see how eager the students were about wanting to do something for someone they didn't know," Brown said. "Kids in general want to do good things, and they want to help people but they don't always have a lot of opportunities, so they sort of just grab onto it when you give them that chance."

Even though knowing the students were brightening the spirits of deployed soldiers was reward enough, an extra reward came in the form of a flag.

The troops in Afghanistan mailed back a framed flag, which had flown on the base, as well as a plaque explaining the significance of the flag.

The troop also sent photos of each soldier with their picture as well as photos of the flag ceremony.

"The students thought it was pretty cool when they did the project, but once they saw something come back from the soldiers they really felt like they were interacting with them," Brown said. "It makes it seem more real for the students."

Brown said she hopes to be able to do this project again and hopefully she'll have another student with a connection.

"I'm glad the kids did this project," she said. "There's always going to be a student who's connected to somebody."

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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