Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 7, Scene 2 Thank You, Mr. President

It started with a book. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. I read a chapter or two every day.  In the story, the islanders engage in a conflict with the Aleuts who come to the island to hunt. Through a series of events that follow, a young girl named Karana lives alone on the island. At one point, the Aleuts return to the island. They have a girl with them who tries to befriend Karana.

I stopped reading at this point and asked my students if Karana should accept this girl’s friendship.

“No!” At first, my fourth graders were certain Karana shouldn’t trust the young woman because she was an Aleut. They discussed the pros and cons.

“The Aleuts killed Karana’s father.”
“Yeah, but does that mean all Aleuts are bad?”
“And besides, she’s a girl. She isn’t a warrior.”
“Yeah, but she's with a bunch of warriors.”

I listened and a strange thing happened. My students began talking about the war in Kosovo. One of the boys in my class asserted that not all Serbians were bad people. “There are some Serbs in my neighborhood and they’re great kids,” he told the group.

The students asked me to read about the fight on the beach again…the one that took the life of Karana’s father. I obliged. As we read the text, it became clear that we didn’t know exactly who or what started the fight.

And so began our open discussions about the war in Kosovo. When we read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, the students wanted to know more about World War II. I gave them a brief history and they took off researching details on their own.

Soon I was fielding questions about ethnic cleansing.

“Like us,” one of my students said.

On December 7th I shared with the students that in America we recognize the day as Pearl Harbor Day. I told them it was the day the United States officially entered World War II.

This new information led to a discussion about the Unites States’ role in the Kosovo War.

You don’t have to agree with his views or politics, but you cannot dispute the fact that as the sitting President of the United States, Bill Clinton took a controversial stand highlighting the situation in Kosovo while others buried their political heads in the sand.

The Kosovars are a grateful nation. My fourth graders understand that. They know there is a statue of Bill Clinton in Pristhina. They know he is viewed as a hero in this area. They expressed their gratitude to me, thanking me for being an American.

I asked them if they would like to write a thank you to the former president. The suggestion was met with a resounding, “Yes!”

I mailed the letters.

I knew it could take a month or two for our letters to arrive at the offices of Mr. Clinton. I‘ve written to presidents with classes before. After a few weeks, I’ve received a form letter “from the president” more than likely written by one of his assistants and “signed” with his signature stamp. I was okay with that. It would mean a lot to my students. And so we waited.

Actually, we pretty much moved on and forgot about it. I still thought that we would possibly get a postcard or something. Maybe by mid February when Kosovo was celebrating its ten-year anniversary as a country. That would be nice.

Uh…no…Okay, maybe by the end of February. No. I put it out of my mind.

Teacher Appreciation Day was March 7th. I didn’t know there was a teacher appreciation day so I was pleasantly surprised when my students walked into class bringing me flowers and candy. I even received “an apple for the teacher.” It was a wonderful day.

We were just beginning to read a chapter in our latest novel before going home, when two men from the school’s administrative office appeared at our classroom door. They were holding a large gray envelope.

You guessed it. It was addressed to me from the office of William J. Clinton. The children squealed with delight. They were clapping and cheering as I opened the envelope.

Inside, there was a letter specifically addressed to them. I read it out loud. It was signed Bill Clinton. Those students jumped up and down.  President Bill Clinton had read their words. He enjoyed their letters. He told them that Kosovo would always have a special place in his heart.

“I hope you will continue to always look for ways to advance peace and understanding for all of the people of Kosovo, “ he wrote.

I want my students to know that their voice matters. I want them to never shy away from sharing their views but I want them to always listen to others as well.

I could end the story there.

But there was something else in the envelope. It was a handwritten card to me.

Dear Ms. Waters,
         Thank you for sending me the letters. I enjoyed reading them and would like to visit the next time I’m in Kosovo.
         Even more, thank you for teaching them history in human terms, and creating the possibility of reconciliation.
         The world is suffering, once again from too much “US vs, THEM.” I hope it will pass quickly. I wish today’s adults had learned from teachers like you,
Bill Clinton

I did mention it was Teacher Appreciation Day, right?

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Join me in Kosova (the Albanian pronunciation for Kosovo) in Southeastern Europe. Each week I share my experiences. Leave your comments and questions below. I’ll try to address each as best I can. And if you don't want to miss a post, simply add your email address in the box on the right where it says "Follow by email." 


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, Celeste! It has certainly been an interesting year.

  2. This is awesome. Right now I wish I was one of the students when you received the letter❤so exiting

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by the blog. My students indeed feel very special.

  3. Goosebumps all over!! Becky, you are incredible! ��

    1. Thank you, Christi! Its all about enjoying what you do!

  4. I have an inordinate amount of vicarious excitement right now---for the students and for you! Thank you for sharing this story!!

    1. Thank you, Amy for stopping by! My students are still excited about this. They tell everyone they meet about the letter!


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