Fourth-grade students at Valley Christian Academy used their neatest penmanship to write letters to servicemen and servicewomen Wednesday in recognition of National Handwriting Day.

Jana Rowan, 9, wrote: “I am so thankful for the sacrifices you make. You show lots of bravery.”

Troy Fulton, 9, said: “I wanted you to know that we are praying for you.”

“I thank you so much for protecting our country,” said Alyssa Eaker, 9.

Students repeated the sentiment in 60 letters, many of which included a red, white and blue picture of the American flag.

For Alyssa, the assignment hit close to home.

Her dad, Scott Eaker, returned home last year after spending seven months in Afghanistan with the U.S. Air Force.

Cindy Mason, a fourth-grade teacher at Valley Christian Academy, was teaching Alyssa’s brother when Eaker deployed.

“He left the first day of school,” she said.

Alyssa said she missed her dad “a lot” and that instead of writing him letters she talked to her dad via the Apple video calling software FaceTime.

The usefulness of teaching penmanship in the digital age has been a topic debated by educators. The day was established in 1977 to celebrate the birthday of John Hancock, a leader of the American Revolution who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Louise Spear-Swerling, a special education and reading expert, wrote in a 2006 article about the importance of teaching handwriting that “labored handwriting creates a drain on mental resources needed for higher-level aspects of writing, such as attention to content, elaboration of details, and organization of ideas.”

Spear-Swerling said in the article that handwriting in early grades is linked to basic reading and spelling achievement.

Mason assigned the penmanship project in keeping with the classes’ January character trait of orderliness, to emphasize appropriate posture and reinforce how to hold a pencil properly.

She said the assignment also aligns with the school’s effort to honor patriotism.

“We pray every day for our servicemen,” Mason said.

Students will submit the letters as part of the “A Million Thanks” year-round letter writing campaign for men and women in the U.S. military.

“It just means so much to them to get a letter from home,” Mason said.

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