Asking youngsters to interrupt their summer vacation to come to school may seem like a fruitless task.
Students in the Hampton School District, however, jumped at the chance Tuesday evening to show up at Poff Elementary School.
They came to welcome home Pfc. Connor Green, a 2011 graduate of Hampton who recently returned to the United States after serving eight months in Afghanistan.
The students, who will be third-graders this coming school year, came at the request of Marilyn Adams, who was their second-grade teacher last school year.
Their friendship with Pfc. Green began last fall when the students and Mrs. Adams sent Christmas cards to him in Afghanistan. Although Mrs. Adams had never taught Pfc. Green -- he attended Wyland Elementary School in the district -- she knew him because he was friends with her daughter, Melissa.
"I personally wanted to keep in touch with Connor," she said. "However, I also wanted my second-graders to participate in a community service project during the holidays. It's important for them to think of others, especially at that time of year."
After receiving the cards, Pfc. Green sent a detailed email and pictures to Mrs. Adams, and an ongoing email correspondence began.
"When Connor answered with such detailed information, written directly to the kids and including photographs, my class immediately wanted to write back," she said.
The children sent emails to Pfc. Green, asking him questions about his base, life in Afghanistan and, in particular, what life and school was like for the children there.
Their questions included:
"Are there volcanoes in Afghanistan?"
"How heavy is your equipment?"
"Why do they treat boys differently than girls there?"
"How does it feel to serve our country? Do you like your job?"
Pfc. Green was impressed.
"You guys ask really good questions," he replied in one of the exchanges.
Before meeting the children on Tuesday, the 20-year-old said, "Their questions were hysterical. I had to think back to what their mind-set was and remember what I was like at that age. Then I would try to answer appropriately."
In addition to the students at Poff, Pfc. Green kept in touch with about 100 other youngsters, including students in Missouri, where his aunt is a teacher.
On Tuesday, he met the children at the playground at Poff.
Aja Lynn, 8, had made a "Welcome Home Connor" banner with help from her mother, Kisle Lynn.
"We had already sent care packages to a soldier who was the brother of a friend, and when they started writing to Connor, she was excited they were doing something at school," Mrs. Lynn said.
"He does so much for us, making a sign is just a little thing," she said.
Pfc. Green explained to the 11 students and their families and friends what life was like in the service and in Afghanistan.
He held up a pen and note pad and explained to the crowd how precious those items were. "The kids would always run up and ask for pens and paper. They don't have them there and would love getting them," he said.
Tyler Mack, 8, said it was exciting to see Pfc. Green in person.
"He is like I thought he would be. I liked what he showed us," he said, referring to the clothing samples Pfc. Green brought from Afghanistan.
Eric Weeks, 9, and Austin Perrucci, 8, tried on hats and scarves.
"It was itchy and I didn't really like it," Eric said.
Austin was happier with his hat. "I liked it. I wanted to keep it to wear to school," he said with a laugh.
For Mrs. Adams, the correspondence was a good educational tool.
"What a great way to reinforce writing and communication skills," she said. "They had many questions for him -- and he always took the time to answer each one, no matter how many or how trivial the questions might have seemed to him." she said.
Pfc. Green was honest when a father asked him if he felt his military training was enough preparation for Afghanistan.
"Our training was great, but you can only train so much; you have to experience it," he said. "Once we were there, our commanding officers were excellent and that really helped."
Mrs. Adams and the students presented Pfc. Green with a Poff Elementary T-shirt, and Pfc. Green said he had enjoyed meeting his young pen pals.
"It was great," he said. "I hope it meant something to them."neigh_north
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.