TAMPA (FOX 13) - The 7th graders at Learning Gate Community School are working on a very special Valentine's Day project. Their assignment is about much more that hearts and love; they're hoping their work will change lives. They're writing Valentines to orphans living in South Sudan.
"The purpose of the letters are to give the students hope. We want them to understand that they are loved and that there are people all over the world that are thinking about them and are praying for them," explained Amanda Riker, a 7th grade teacher at Learning Gate.
Letters are a special gift for the children of Sudan. Since they have no mail system, they don't have contact with the outisde world very often. The only time they recieve letters is one day a month, on letter day.
So, Riker teamed up with Make Way Partners, an organization that sponsors the children of Sudan, to take part in the event.
"These are people you don't know or talk to everyday, so it's kind of cool for me," said 7th grader Logan Buggy.
The students spent three days writing and crafting their letters.
"I added a lot of hearts because it is Valentine's Day and I put a picture of my family, my cousins and my grandpa, and then I wrote a letter inside," explained 7th grader Gabriel Pollard.
They also had some advice for their new friends.
"Stay in school. It's really fun to learn. Also, listen to your teachers. They're not only adults, they're your best friends too," Logan wrote in his letter.
The kids are proud of their hard work. But the assignment is much more than just an exercise in penmanship and grammar. The Valentines are meant to teach them how to be a better person.
"We are trying to convey in our character education curriculum in our school what it is to empathize and really feel emotionally for other people, whether it is in the school or the other side of the world," explained Riker.
It's a lesson that Riker hopes her students take with them when they leave her class, and that their kindness and compassion can make a difference in someone living practically a world away.