Flat Stanley envoys connect students with military pen pals

Assiginack Public School’s Grade 2/3 class has been penning letters with 23 men and women who are members of the Canadian Armed Forces. photo by Michael Erskine

ASSIGINACK—The link between Manitoulin Island students and members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) continues to be strong as Assiginack Public School’s Grade 2/3 students deployed their laminated Flat Stanleys to military volunteer penpals.

“These little Stanleys are heading out across Canada (and around the world) through a partnership I have developed with Canadian Armed Forces members, who volunteer to be pen pals with my students,” noted Grade 2/3 teacher Heather Jefkins. “The laminated Stanleys were deployed through Canada Post to begin their yearlong adventure with the CAF. We have Stanleys spread across the country, from CFB Shearwater in Nova Scotia to CFB Comox in BC and as far north as Joint Task Force North in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. In addition, we have two Stanleys serving with a UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Middle East, two more with CAF Members working in Europe and one aboard a naval ship on a six-month deployment.”

This is the fifth year Manitoulin Island students will be corresponding with serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces in a project Ms. Jefkins has dubbed OP (or Operation) Flat Stanley.

“This year the 20 students in my class at Assiginack Public School are partnered with 23 men and women who volunteer to be ‘Stanley handlers’ for the entire school year. The Stanley Handlers must agree to take their Stanley with them and report back to the students about the adventures they have as they do their jobs. With participants from the Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy, students are exposed to a variety of experiences through letters, photos and sometimes even videos.”

Ms. Jefkins explained that “throughout the course of the year the students exchange cards, letters and even art work with their penpals and in return they receive letters, postcards, photos and sometimes even special treats from around the world.”

Through Operation Flat Stanley, students are exposed to the different jobs and experiences of CAF members and that exposure forms a personalized foundation for geography and history lessons across the length and breadth of Canada and the world.

“As students write and receive different types of mail, they learn practical literacy skills and are engaged in real world reading and writing tasks,” explained Ms. Jefkins. “This year the Grade 2/3 class has already learned about different kinds of camouflage and what terrain it might be best suited for, as we did online research as a group to prepare for creating the Stanleys.”

The students have also been working on their writing skills, ensuring that their letters include important information and that their printing is legible, noted Ms. Jefkins.

Working with Makerspace teacher Allison MacNeil, students have learned how to use Green Screen technology to create videos, which were then emailed to their pen pals in order to introduce themselves before the first Flat Stanleys were deployed through the mail.  

The interaction doesn’t end with letter writing and the regular “Flat Stanley Fun” the Grade 2/3 class will also be sending Treat Boxes to five of the Stanley Handlers who will be away from their families over the holiday season in December.

“OP Troop Support has been happening on Manitoulin since December 2006 and has seen more than 200 treat boxes delivered to CAF members serving in various locations around the world including Afghanistan, South Sudan, the Middle East and Eastern Europe,” said Ms. Jefkins. “We try to include Canadian treats in these boxes, including maple cookies, Tim Horton’s coffee and maple syrup, as well as hard candies, trail mix and other holiday favourites in order to bring a little taste of home to those who are serving Canada across the world,” said Ms. Jefkins. “The Manitoulin community has been very supportive of this program for over 10 years.”