Students meet officer with whom they’ve chatted online

MEXICO – East Juniata High School teacher Ed Reinhold spent the last year “teaching” Walker Elementary School students a few lessons on life in Afghanistan.

Thursday he was able to speak to them in person.

Reinhold is a Chief Warrant Officer 2 of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and was serving his country in Afghanistan over the past year. He had been communicating with his children’s classes via Skype each week.

He began the Skype experience last school year when son Grant was in first grade. The online communication continued for Walker Elementary School students as the current school year began, and Grant entered second grade and younger sister Grace entered kindergarten.

“I would Skype the classes once a week. I’d spend 15 minutes talking to second grade and then another 15 minutes with kindergarten. They always looked forward to it,” he said.

Reinhold returned home just two weeks ago along with brother Frank Reinhold and brother-in-law Jeremy Aldridge who were both also stationed in Afghanistan.

Thursday he returned to the school for a special Veterans Day program. Reinhold, his brother and other veterans present, were honored for their service. Students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade read recitations about Armistice Day, demonstrated how to correctly fold the United States flag, sung patriotic songs and shouted many thank-yous to the men and one woman in attendance.

“The kids are what it is all about today,” Reinhold said prior to the program.

“I want to make sure this is about them and all veterans. Everybody does their own small part,” he said as he waved at students and staff members walking down the halls.

He recalled the Skype experiences as interesting for both himself and the students.

“All of the teachers here do a great job. The kids would talk about whatever they wanted to talk about, geography, history. I had explained to them that people there live in mud huts. It’s not like what we’re used to here. They wanted to know about the animals and so forth … stuff that a kindergarten or second grade student would want to know.”

They even learned a few things they might not learn in second grade such as the name of the Secretary of State.

Reinhold was able to see and connect with his own children through the experience. Since he has been back he has enjoyed spending extra time with his family, including his wife Tiffany.

“That was the hardest part … being away from family.”

Students from the entire school were prepared Thursday with questions for Reinhold and all veterans. They wanted to know “Have you ever been shot at?” “Were you scared?” “What did you eat?”

Reinhold was the keynote speaker for the day and took more questions from the audience. He was introduced by teacher Ronda Ehrenzeller who described the Skype-ing throughout the past year as “something amazing.”

She credited teachers Kim Guiser and Kim Kauffman for setting up the Skype.

Ehrenzeller then noted Reinhold had sent Walker Elementary School many postcards during his time away. She presented the school with a flag box that included pictures of Reinhold, his postcards to the school and the American flag that had flown in Afghanistan.

“The reason why I do this,” Reinhold told the crowd of children clad in red, white and blue, “is for all of you guys.”

Though it was not a question posed by any student, Reinhold said the most asked question he gets is “Are you going back?”

“I don’t foresee it,” he said, noting that most of the United States’ work in Afghanistan is less and less as time goes on.

He will, however, return to his own school to begin teaching math again. East Juniata High School students will have their teacher back beginning the Monday before Thanksgiving.