Learning the alphabet turned into a lesson in patriotism and friendship for two kindergarten classes at Payson Elementary School.
For a Marine serving in Afghanistan, the lesson yielded an adorable hand-made quilt, strung together with loving care by about 40 5-year-olds.
The lesson began more than a month ago, just as students in Mary Ann Runzo's morning and afternoon classes were in the midst of learning their ABCs.
Since Runzo's teaching philosophy involves associating letters with words -- the class had just finished "S," using "safety" and "soldier" -- the teacher was scouring for a word that begins with "Q."
She settled on the word "quilt" and the daily lessons began.
To make the learning unit even more meaningful and interesting, Runzo improvised a project that would allow the students to design and sew a quilt while working together as a team.
The dilemma the teacher faced, however, was what to do with the quilt when it was finished.
"We decided to give it as a Christmas gift," Runzo said, "and we had to decide who to give it to."
Eventually, Runzo and her students decided the recipient would be former Payson Elementary School student Brian Langeliers who, at the time, was serving with the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan.
The students say they selected Langeliers for a variety of reasons.
"He's saving our country; he keeps the bad guys away," Shaya said.
Logan chose Langeliers because, "He's my hero; I love him; he keeps me safe."
Bailey wanted Langeliers to know he was not forgotten even though he was thousands of miles away from home.
"I was hoping he knew I was thinking about him," she said.
Once the class assignment began, each student was to bring a piece of fabric from home to be cut in squares and sewn together to make the quilt.
The colors and types of fabrics the students brought were endless -- one patch features a John Deere tractor, another pro football, one square is an American flag and there's a solid, soft, fuzzy square.
For Runzo, the wide variety of material the kindergarten chose renders the quilt a gift of caring.
"That (the children's choices) and the fact they made it themselves makes this (quilt) so special," she said.
Once the fabric squares were cut and shaped, the students -- assisted by Runzo and other teachers -- began piecing them together. Each student was also asked to tie a knot of yarn in the square they contributed.
All the time the students were working on the project, Runzo used it for what is known in educational jargon as "teaching moments."
In those, she not only helped the students master use of the letter "Q," but they also learned more about allegiance, duty and devotion to family and country.
During the project, Langeliers was contributing to the academic adventure by sending letters to the children from his overseas military base.
"He told us to do good in school," Tanner said.
Langeliers' interest in the students, Runzo said, "empowered them, made them really feel they were important, a part of things."
On the backside of the quilt, Runzo sewed a solid white backing. There, each student used paint to leave their handprints and their names.
When the undertaking was finally completed, it was time to ship the tribute overseas to Langeliers.
But that plan was nixed when the children learned the Marines had stopped all mail delivery to Langeliers because he was being readied for a tour of duty in Iraq.
Refusing to be dismayed, the kindergartners decided they would present the quilt to Langeliers' parents, Norm and Robin, who are longtime teachers at PES.
In a private ceremony involving the soldier's parents, Runzo and the children, the kindergartners enthusiastically presented the quilt.
For those who participated in the project, both teachers and students, making the quilt was more than an academic lesson in learning the alphabet -- it was a gesture of genuine and warmhearted caring.
Noah, an enthusiastic student from the morning class, might have best expressed the significance of the quilt in saying, "My Nana makes quilts. She loves me. I love Brian."