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Leonard, the chopper has landed



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(click for larger version)
September 21, 2011 - Leonard Elementary students got the surprise of the school year on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 15

What started as a school-wide writing prompt ended with every student climbing aboard a military helicopter thanks to a surprise visit from the United States Customs and Border Patrol.

When school started for the day, Leonard Principal Paul McDevitt went over the PA system and asked every student to write for three minutes based on the prompt "The helicopter landed on our playground and..."

Students finished the prompt and were taken outside to share their stories.

At precisely 9:30 a.m., the helicopter, which was arranged following a phone call from the school, flew over the school, much to the screams and delight of students.

Some students finished their story with the FBI landing and taking teachers away and the president stepping out of the helicopter. A number of students said the helicopter brought tons of ice cream.

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Banyan Hueter and Maxine Sylvester (front L-R) along with Nathan Forgacu (back). (click for larger version)
Upon landing, students listened as the pilots spoke for a few minutes about the daily use of the helicopter.

"I think it was a really cool experience because the students were writing about how a helicopter landed and then the helicopter actually landed," second/third grade teacher Jennifer Coggins said.

She added she liked how the students had the opportunity to learn about the pilot's job and tour the helicopter.

"It gave them a real world experience," Coggins said.

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Fourth-grade teacher Michael Johnson agreed with Coggins.

"What a great experience for the kids here. We had that writing prompt and then to have that story come to life was just amazing," he said. "The smiles on their faces and the excitement was great."

One of the pilots, who asked not to be named to due to security reasons, said these kinds of visits are usually done as part of what they call "Project Outreach."

"What we'll do is we'll come here for a little while and then go on active patrol and we'll patrol certain locations for the day," the pilot said.

The pilot added it was a "good learning experience for the kids."

"It gives people the opportunity to find out there (are) agents working the border. We do other work, and that is why we talk and let them know we do air space security, VIP missions," the pilot added. "We pretty much do everything. If someone calls, we will support if it's law enforcement."

McDevitt was thoroughly impressed by how well the event turned out.

"It turned out even better than I hoped it would," he said. "Being out here on the playground, the kids had no idea

According to McDevitt, the surprise visit was part of a district-wide initiative focused on improving writing scores.

"We do a weekly writing activity where I go over the loudspeaker and I give them a prompt, and then the students have a time period to write about that prompt," McDevitt further explained. "What we do is score all these and collect how many words the students have written in the three minutes they have to write," he said.

"Then each week we look to have the students improve on how many words . . . and we can have an idea over the course of the year if students are improving in their writing, at least in how words they are a able to get down on the paper," he added. "Then it is up to the teachers to kind of work the details, adding details to the story and the content and stuff like that."

According to McDevitt, the helicopter landing brought the whole morning together.

"To tie it into our writing made it special because it was like their stories coming to life after they had the chance to imagine what would happen," he said. "Actually seeing it made it extra special learning experience for the kids."

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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