Mark Twain students get surprise from Afghanistan kids |

Mark Twain students get surprise from Afghanistan kids

Andrew Pridgen
Appeal Staff Writer
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal David Bilak, 9, reacts while getting a group portrait taken in Lisa Hagen's classroom at Mark Twain Elementary School.

Lisa Hagen welled up with tears and paused for a moment.

Her fourth-grade students at Mark Twain Elementary shifted for a moment in their seats as their teacher wiped her cheeks and looked up from the letter she was reading.

“I’m sorry,” Hagen told her class last week. “I just get a little emotional. You guys are a little young to remember what happened.

“But this, this is just outstanding.”

Hagen’s range of emotion bubbled over as she showed her class a flag sent to them from a soldier serving in Afghanistan.

The flag, a gift from Navy officer Michaela Royce, who in her note told the students the stars and stripes flew for exactly nine hours and 11 minutes at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom.

Even if the fourth graders were too young to remember seeing the events of Sept. 11 unfold, they said they are aware of what happened and the sacrifice people like Royce have made since that day in 2001.

“We wrote the woman in the Navy and thanked her for what she’s doing,” said Adrian Garcia, 9. “It’s great to hear from them, to know what they’re doing. To know they’re OK.”

But Royce did more than just let the students know she was OK.

Along with the flag she sent to the class, she sent each student hats and purses made by Afghani children.

The classroom erupted in a scream of elation as the box Royce sent revealed the hand-sewn goods sent from half a world away by children the same ages as the Carson fourth graders.

“I think this shows that kids over there are like we are,” said Autumn Perez, 10, as she admired her new purse, with a rust-colored sequin strap. “We have very different lives than they do. But, I think they want the same things as we do – to live in a place where what they say matters.

“To be able to do what they want to do.”

Ryan Mick, 9, said he understands his life is much different than a child his age in Afghanistan – noting he “doesn’t know what it’s like to grow up in a war.”

“We are able to have what we need,” he said. “Over there, it’s probably harder for them.”

Ryan inspected his hat, shaped like a pill box and decorated with white beads.

“I bet those kids don’t have much and they made these for us,” he said. “I wonder if they understand how much that means.”

The ongoing exchange between soldier and student came about when Carson resident and WNC freshman Erica Arbour, 18, decided to adopt a soldier this summer after reading an article in Seventeen Magazine.

“There’s a Web site ( that I read about and thought it would be a good idea to check it out and write a soldier myself,” she said. “It worked out better than I expected.

“(Michaela) and I write often. I think writing back and forth really helps us both.”

Arbour’s mother, Stacey Arbour, is a special-education teacher’s assistant at the school and told Hagen about her daughter’s letter writing.

“We decided to write (Michaela) a letter,” Hagen said. “These gifts (were) her response. It’s absolutely more than we could’ve ever imagined.”

“I knew she was sending something in appreciation for the kids’ letters,” Erica said. “But I think we were all surprised.”

With their Afghani hats on and purses by their side, the class collectively settled down just moments after unwrapping its gift to complete their next project.

“We’re making the soldiers Christmas cards,” Autumn said. “I hope they get there on time.”

• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at or 881-1219.