- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Students at Kendall Demonstration Elementary School at Gallaudet University had used e-mail and a school Web log to get first-hand accounts of the insurgency in Iraq and the daily survival of a U.S. Marine stationed there.

Yesterday, the 42 students met their personal link for the first time.

Sgt. Earl “Jay” Beatty, 31, joined the school’s sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at a homecoming ceremony on Gallaudet’s campus in Northeast. He returned home to Mitchellville March 18.

The students, who are deaf or have partial hearing loss, used sign-language interpreters to thank a tearful Sgt. Beatty and his wife, Donna, 30, for their contributions to their country and for their correspondence with the students.

“People who went to Vietnam didn’t get thanks. Just to see how important this was to these kids means a lot,” Sgt. Beatty said. “But to have a young man come up and give me a hug who has a hearing impediment and may not get the chances I have, and have him thank me for what I’m doing — wow!”

The correspondence with Sgt. Beatty began when Kendall teacher Philip Bogdan, 46, heard that his good friend was being deployed to Iraq last August.

“I freaked out when I found out he was being deployed,” Mr. Bogdan said. “I wanted to know how we could support him, how I could help. Then I thought of the kids at school.”

What began as a way to keep in touch with a friend blossomed into a seven-month lesson in culture and world affairs for the students.

“The first day I told them, ‘On a bad day, your mom and dad won’t let you watch TV. But on a bad day for Jay, his friends get killed,’” Mr. Bogdan said. “That really got them.”

Sgt. Beatty served in Iraq with the 4th Civil Affairs Group Detachment 4C, primarily in the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi and at the Abu Ghraib prison. Sgt. Beatty, who serves as a Maryland state trooper when he’s home, has been told he might be redeployed.

For the children, e-mailing Sgt. Beatty, Mrs. Beatty and the couple’s 3-year-old son, Nico, was a chance to hear the news firsthand and learn about a part of the world they may never see. All of the children who spoke to The Washington Times yesterday used a sign-language interpreter.

“Marines go through tough conditions to serve their country,” said Sarah Smith, 13, who came to Kendall from Savannah, Ga. “He told us about his routine that he went through every day and what he witnessed every day. I couldn’t make that stuff up.”

Appreciation for U.S. troops was one of many things the children gained from Sgt. Beatty’s e-mails and the pictures he sent home.

The camel spider also became the subject of adoration and wonder among most of the students. A photograph of two abnormally large camel spiders was forwarded to the students and posted on the blog.

“Of course I enjoyed talking to Jay, but I also liked the camel spider,” Sarah said. “It is a spider that is about a foot wide when it is full-grown.”

The size of the spider is more urban legend spread by the troops and the Internet. Instead of a foot wide, the spiders grow to be about 5 inches wide.

Nonetheless, students were eager to talk about the spider as much as possible yesterday.

“The camel spider was the most interesting thing [about Iraq] to me, because it’s so huge,” said Joe Conrad, 14.

“I wouldn’t want to find one in my bed,” Sarah said.

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