(ST.JOSEPH, Mo.)— For students at Central High School, an English lesson turned into a gift they will never forget.
English teacher Joy Vandel wanted to add an extra element of writing to her students’ research project, but she and her students got a lot more out of the lesson than they expected.
Vandel has been teaching all levels of English to Central highschoolers for years and she says she likes to change the curriculum for her students to keep them interested in the material.
“I could never just pull out last years' curriculum plan and teach from that year after year, yes I do keep some lessons from previous years that students really liked, but everything else is pretty new,” Vandel said.
This year, Ms. Vandel wanted to incorporate some of the experiences she gets to enjoy outside of class with her students. Her husband is a musician who plays at many charity events—including concerts honoring veterans.
After attending a benefit concert for soldiers who received the Medal of Honor, Vandel knew it was something she needed to take to her students.
“I realized most of them didn't know what the Medal of Honor is so that a good place to start,” Vandel said.
Vandel had her students do a research project about Medal of Honor recipients, but she didn't stop there. She also told her students they would be writing to the soldier they researched or the soldiers’ family.
“At first I was kind of like ‘oh man, I don't know if I could write anything even worthy of giving to someone with such a high honor’,” Central sophomore Isaac Rivera said.
“I just told them the important thing is that you explain to that person what you learned and you tell them why you are thankful for the sacrifices that they made,” Vandel said.
After words of encouragement, students wrote multiple drafts of their letters before they were sent out.
“I thought about each individual word I wanted to say because it had to be perfect, it was really hard to write but I'm really glad I got a chance to do it,” Central sophomore Kaylee Brazzel said.
Once the letters were sent, Vandel and her students thought the lesson was over, but they were in for a surprise because the veterans wrote back.
“You don't expect to get anything back because we just did this to give back to them basically, but it's just been overwhelming the stuff that's been sent back to me and to the kids,” Vandel said.
Medal of Honor recipients or their families sent back signed pictures, commemoration pins, books, souvenirs, and inspirational letters.
“It was a really amazing feeling to have that,” said Brazzel.
Students say this is a lesson that will stick with them forever.
“It's definitely instilled in me that I want to grow up and hold on those core values like patriotism and commitment because those are really what are going to drive you and that's what you really need to have in the future,” Rivera said.
Vandel says that more letters are still coming in, she says she will definitely be doing this research project with her classes next year.