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Students show troops gratitude with baked goods

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Students and staff members at the Special Needs School of Gwinnett, including Alexander Freeman, 8, top left, make cookies to send to soldiers overseas. The students were flattening the dough in order to use star cookie cutters.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Students and staff members at the Special Needs School of Gwinnett, including Alexander Freeman, 8, top left, make cookies to send to soldiers overseas. The students were flattening the dough in order to use star cookie cutters.

Students at Special Needs Schools of Gwinnett roamed the campus this week in search of sticks, rocks and pine cones.

The front yard finds would soon serve as a means to create the most inventive American flag soldiers in Afghanistan may ever see.

Students at the school's summer camp are sending care packages this week to overseas U.S. soldiers.

"We're teaching our children that soldiers are our friends," said Elinore Trotter, principal of Special Needs Schools of Gwinnett.

Special Needs Schools of Gwinnett is a nonprofit organization that provides educational and therapeutic early intervention services to children and adults.

Children and adults of all ages who attend the camp this week are packing boxes full of cookies, candy, oatmeal, socks and other requested materials. They're also penning personal thank-you letters to military personnel.

Said 14-year-old Sean Roberts: "(Soldiers) keep us safe. We want to tell them, 'thanks for keeping us safe.'"

Nine-year-old George Dutton said soldiers "make America safe. We love soldiers."

Trotter said students like Roberts and Dutton learned this week about the different branches of the military.

"We explained to them what each branch was all about," Trotter said. "We also explained to them the importance of giving back to the community and giving back to our soldiers."

It made sense to student Kristi Bernhardt.

When she heard they would be learning about soldiers and sending care packages overseas, she brought a picture from home to share with the class: a black and white photo of her father in full military uniform.

Said Bernhardt: "He was in the Army a long time ago."

Trotter said Bernhardt wasn't alone.

"All of a sudden, it turned out a lot of them knew people that were soldiers," Trotter said. "So everybody started bringing in pictures of their relatives who were soldiers."

Trotter said it helps the students to make that connection.

By Wednesday afternoon, the American flag made of sticks, rocks and pine cones was nearly finished.

The cookies were sealed in bags, and students put the final touch on the care packages.

Abby Martin, 13, helped supervise this week's cookie production.

"We are making cookies for (the soldiers) to eat," Martin said, smiling. "They don't have a stove over there, and we want them to be able to have cookies."

According to its website, Special Needs Schools of Gwinnett aims to provide "the highest quality education and therapeutic learning available, to nurture and challenge each student, to instill a positive self-image and love for learning and support parents in their understanding of, and their quest for, the best for their children."

For more information, visit www.specialneedsschools.org or call 678-442-6262.