Elizabeth Anstey's second grade students at Lakeway Elementary School got a special visit on January 19 from class pen pal, U.S. Marine Private First Class Joel Zapalac.
Ms. Anstey’s class began writing PFC Zapalac in November who indicated he would visit his pen pals upon graduation from basic training and before he left for infantry school.
Joel attended boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) Sand Diego in California. After graduation, he flew back to the Lakeway area for leave between trainings. Next he is going to Camp Pendleton, California for Marine Combat Training (MCT).
"Our families are close friends," Mrs. Anstey stated. "Joel decided he was going to join the United States Marines after high school graduation. When I heard that Joel would not have any contact with the outside world during his three months of training–except in the form of writing letters–I asked if he would be willing to be a pen pal for my students. Without a doubt, he agreed."
In order for the students to make a personal connection with who they would be writing, Mrs. Anstey explained to her students who Joel was, why he chose to join the service, and explained that he was a proud product of Lake Travis ISD. PFC Zapalac attended Bee Cave Elementary School, Lake Travis Middle School and graduated from Lake Travis High School in 2016.
"They were extremely excited about writing to Joel and wanted to start right away," Ms. Anstey shared. "They asked daily, 'Mrs. Anstey, when are we going to write to our Marine? Full of questions and things to tell Joel about themselves, they began to write."
In addition to providing PFC Zapalac with motivation during his training, being pen pals in turn provided educational opportunities for Mrs. Anstey’s students.
According to Ms. Anstey, her students learned:
- geography: when they learned about the military base in California where Joel was stationed for training,
- literacy: how to edit their writing for proper conventions (independently, through peer review, and in teacher-student mini conferences), how to correctly format a friendly letter, and how to address an envelope, including where to place the stamp
On the day of his visit, Joel spent time with the students describing his experience in basic training, answering questions and displaying a variety of military gear. At the end of his visit, students shared with Joel their handmade cards and posters.
“It was an extraordinary experience and an honor to be pen pals with Private First Class Zapalac," Mrs. Anstey concluded. "My students are curious to know when he will be coming back to visit them again and when they can write to him again."