Soldier shares birthday with Lakes pen pals

May 29, 2009 // 0 Comments

Army Private First Class (PFC) Andrew Berli, a 2006 Comstock Park High School graduate, is used to going into hostile and uncertain situations while on duty in Iraq, but when entering Lakes Elementary School in Rockford on Wednesday, May 20, Berli was nervous for a whole different reason.  He was going to meet his fifth grade pen pals from Sandy Knottnerus’s class to share what his life is like in Iraq.  Knotternus also was a bit on edge explaining, “As a teacher, I worry about guest speakers coming into my classroom. Will the students be polite and respectful?  Will the speaker be interesting?  What is the speaker’s comfort level in front of a group? Will the PowerPoint work?”   PFC Berli and Knotternus quickly found out neither had reason for concern-the class full of spellbound fifth graders surrounded him with cheers, signs, decorations, hundreds of questions, and even a cake for his 21st birthday.  Knotternus said, “All of my worrying was for nothing. When PFC Berli came to visit, nothing could have gone better.  In fact, I think my favorite moment was when PFC Andrew Berli was telling my students about the guys on his team. Before long, kids started popping up with, ‘What about Private White? What about Sergeant Forbis? What about Cecil?’ It was then that the bond that had been forming over the year was cemented. PFC Berli knew that we knew them by name and cared deeply about each. This was the moment that I knew how powerful this experience had been for my students, for Team Bonesaw, and for me.”   Knotterus’s students began writing and sending care packages to Berli’s unit last fall, when she learned her student Brennon Shupe was PFC Berli’s nephew.  The entire class embraced the idea, parents got on board donating non-perishable items, and soon soldiers and students were communicating and learning about their lives separated by 7,000-plus miles.   One of PFC Berli’s only requests while on leave was to spend time with his pen pals, thanking them for all the letters and care packages.  He put together a slide show with photos to share with the students. As the students sat in a circle around PFC Berli, he explained whenever a care package […]