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To deployed dads, with love: Students gather goodies to send to deployed fathers of local students

From left to right: Brooklyn Madson, sixth grade; Taylor Schauer, fifth grade; Erin Schauer, sixth grade; Taelor Kuhn, sixth grade; Drew Harris, sixth grade. Kaysey Price / Tribune1 / 4
The pile of goodies sits in the classroom, ready to be sent off to the deployed soldiers. Kaysey Price / Tribune2 / 4
Some of the students drew pictures on their letters to add a little flair. Kaysey Price / Tribune3 / 4
Erin's letter to her deployed dad sits on top of the stack of student letters. Kaysey Price / Tribune4 / 4

With Veterans Day just around the corner, one Lake Park-Audubon Elementary classroom is taking it upon themselves to spread a little thanks and gratitude for American soldiers--two in particular: Michael Strom and Travis Schauer, two deployed soldiers who have kids at the elementary school.

Kathrina O'Connell, a sixth grade teacher at Lake Park-Audubon Elementary, says she usually has the kids do a little something for Veteran's Day, whether it's sending cards to the Veterans Hospital or to the Lake Park Legion. But this year, things got a little personal. Since four students' fathers are deployed, they decided to send care packages to Strom and Schauer.

"My husband is a veteran, so when Veterans Day rolls around, it's always in the back of my mind," said O'Connell, adding that she also sees it as a great teaching opportunity. "I think it's especially important when we have parents of students deployed to show support to the families because it is such a difficult time."

Schauer, who was recently deployed to Jordan, has two daughters in the Lake Park-Audubon district: Erin Schauer, a sixth grader; and Taylor Schauer, a fifth grader.

Erin says it's been tough with her dad deployed--he won't get to spend the holidays with them--but they get to FaceTime with him about once a week. She keeps him updated on the goings on, like the start of her basketball season or the animals getting wiley on their Lake Park farm.

O'Connell sent out a note to the students' parents explaining what their project was, letting them know that "the food is not so great where Michael is deployed, and he would love some jerky, sweets, or BBQ chips" included in the care package they send, and the students delivered. Packages of jerky, chips, and sweet tarts sat in a pile in O'Connell's room, along with other things like earbuds, and crossword puzzles, ready to be sent out.

"The only thing he gets to play sometimes is volleyball," said Erin, explaining why some students decided to send crossword puzzles and other games.

"I think it's really neat that we get to do that," said Taelor Kuhn, a sixth grader in Erin's class.

The students also wrote letters to go along with their care package. Many of the notes thanked the soldiers for their service; others asked curious questions like "what kind of gear do you wear" or "How is the food? I heard it's not so great."

Mostly, though, they showed their support, saying things like "You must be strong to do what you do," and "I'm very grateful for the work you do."

"Hopefully the students see the value--and I think they do," said O'Connell. "We talk about Mr. Shauer. He's not here for Christmas--he's not here for Thanksgiving. And I think that really sunk in for them."

O'Connell readied the care packages and sent them out Wednesday to make sure Strom and Schauer got them in time for Veterans Day.