Letters not ‘texts’ spur unique writing project with SSCS grad and 7th graders

on December 29, 2023
army guy visits with 7th graders in class

SSCS graduate Brenden Parrotti, now a member of the Army National Guard, visits with his penpal friends in teacher Randi Korona’s 7th grade writing lab.

In these times of “Texts” and “Chats” and “Snaps” you may be surprised to learn that it wasn’t a “DM” but an old-fashioned letter or two that united a local teen and a group of SSCS tweens in a unique writing project this school year.

And before you reply “TMI” (Too Much Information) or “TL. DR.” (Too Long. Didn’t Read), you might want to hear this Sharon Springs small school success story.

“BTW” … you remember the letter, right? It’s that communications device that requires no expensive smart phone, a Verizon account or a .com address. Rather, it relies on pen and paper, words and sentences and an envelope, stamp, mailbox and letter carrier to get a message from one person to the next.

Seems simple enough to us older folks but this letter-writing thing may have today’s teen or tween texting, well, “SMH” (Shaking My Head). Just ask SSCS English teacher Randi Korona.

Like most 12 or 13-year-olds, Korona’s seventh graders love to text and chat but don’t always love to write. So they sometimes struggle with it.

“It can be a challenge,” Korona said. “So in our writing labs I am continually looking for anything that might make them actually want to write.”

That was until her class met SSCS alum Brenden Parrotti

Many Sharon Springers may remember Brenden at SSCS. He was a member of the National Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and the Science Club while playing soccer, basketball and baseball. He attended the BOCES Career & Tech Criminal Justice program in Schoharie and was a member of the National Technical Honor Society. He has two sisters, the youngest, Breanna, is an SSCS senior this school year.

Brenden graduated from SSCS last June and, in August, he enlisted in the Army National Guard. He arrived at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri on Sept. 26 for more than two months of basic training.

Being half way across the country and more than 1,100 miles from his family and friends proved difficult for the 19-year-old. “OMG!,” Parrotti was, in fact, homesick.

“Being away from home for the first time was a difficult experience for me,” Parrotti said. “The first week is called ‘reception’ where you get your uniform, go over paperwork, and go through all your medical evaluations and more. This process is tedious because you sit, wait, and do nothing. No talking, no sleeping, no phones … just hurry up and wait. Being alone with nothing but time and your thoughts is what ate me up the most. Thinking about family, relationships, and friendships back home made it very hard to continue through.”

One of those relationships back home was with Mrs. Korona, his former teacher. Korona said she remembered Brenden as a student “who everyone loved. He was always happy, positive and made time in his day to say hello to everyone. Brenden had worked on our farm, and my son looked up to him as a role model especially in sports.”

Facebook request starts it all

So in October when Brenden’s mother posted on Facebook that if anyone would like to write to Brenden in boot camp to reach out to her for his address, Korona did just that. Then she developed a class lesson plan for the letter-writing campaign with her seventh graders who wrote to Brenden about themselves and what the start of their school year was like.

“I was thinking that maybe a good way to give back to Brenden would be to send him not one, but a bunch of letters,” Korona said. “My students were surprised to learn how different it looks to address an envelope to someone who is in the military. Then they were even more surprised when, just a few weeks later, Brenden wrote back.”

Brenden composed a handwritten letter to each of Korona’s students with inspiration messages like, “Enjoy the little things – like having more than 5, 10, or 15 minutes to eat your food” and “Be better than you were yesterday and never give up.” Other message included “Be the best version of yourself,” or “Spread kindness at school.”

“It was awesome to see the kinds of words of encouragement that he had for each student,”  Korona said. “As soon as we received his replies, the first thing out of their mouths was, ‘Can we write back to him?’ So in that sense, it was definitely a win-win situation for me because they were excited about writing!”

The student letters meant a lot to Brenden as well

“Receiving those letters made me feel very special,” Brenden explained, “and I actually teared up a little. It made me happy because it felt like I had left an impact enough for people to think about me and want to do something to make me happy. The letters made me feel proud of myself and what I was doing. The students gave me hope and motivation to keep going.”

And that’s just what he did. Brenden graduated from basic training on Dec. 7. Two days later he transferred to the U.S. Army base Fort Gregg-Adams in Virginia. On Dec.18 he came home for a two-week holiday break and couldn’t wait to visit Mrs. Korona and meet her seventh graders in person.

“The first day back didn’t feel real,” Brenden said. “It felt like a dream. Driving on the roads and seeing the scenery reminded me of what made home special. I love Sharon Springs and I love my school. The people here are very kind and helpful and I believe that’s how I got where I am today.”

Brenden’s future goals are to continue his military training in Army Airborne School, go to college and perhaps one day work in law enforcement as a Schoharie County Sheriff, New York State Trooper or with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

As for Brenden’s recent visit with his SSCS “pen-palers,” it has been an experience that he will never forget.

“I couldn’t believe how excited the kids were to write to me and the impact I have had on them,” he said. “It makes me proud to know that I made them happy and that I could be a role model for some of them. All I wanted to do was add positively to their lives and encourage them to chase their dreams.”

Brenden’s parting message to the class from his iPhone 13 … “TTYL!”

students learn to do pushups

Brenden Parrotti teaches the class how to do T-pushups, which are part of the U.S. Army fitness test during basic training.

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