The kids at the First Presbyterian Preschool received a special surprise yesterday when their overseas pen pal, First Lieutenant Daniel Allison, came for a visit. The preschoolers were thrilled when the man they’d only seen on recordings came to meet them in person for a reading of one of his favorite children’s books as well as a cupcake party.

The kids at the First Presbyterian Preschool received a special surprise yesterday when their overseas pen pal, First Lieutenant Daniel Allison, came for a visit. The preschoolers were thrilled when the man they’d only seen on recordings came to meet them in person for a reading of one of his favorite children’s books as well as a cupcake party.

First Lieutenant Daniel Allison has been sending videos of himself reading to the students over the course of their school year as part of the USO’s United Through Reading (UTR) Program. The program sends books to military children, and students like those at First Presbyterian, to follow along as a loved one reads with them onscreen. The UTR program helps soldiers and families stay connected over the long distance and keeps morale high on both ends. And in this instance, it introduces young students to a world beyond their own walls and borders.

Lt. Allison happened upon the UTR sound booth during his nine month deployment in Kuwait. He appreciated what the program was doing and read to some of the other soldier’s kids as well as his nieces and nephews. Lt. Allison said when the school year started he “thought it would be neat to read stories to an entire classroom.”

“I originally went to school to be a teacher,” Lt. Allison explained. “I taught high school for six years...I always loved helping kids and this was a great opportunity to do that.”

Rachel Allison, Lt. Allison’s sister-in-law teaches at the preschool and helped him  set up the program with the students. Mrs. Allison said the kids all refer to him as “Our Lieutenant Dan,” and sent him handmade birthday and Christmas cards during the course of his deployment. They also starred in a Veterans Day video they sent the Lt. that showed them holding up the American flag.

“We usually have the books playing when we do our chapel once a week,” said Mrs. Allison. “They get so excited, they love having a Lieutenant Dan book, and if we don’t, they ask about it.”
She said the kids are riveted when they watch Lt. Allison’s videos, and sit at full attention whenever they’re on the screen.

Mrs. Allison and the other teachers also make a point to use the student’s love for Lt. Allison’s videos as opportunities for learning outside of traditional lessons.

“Our philosophy is that kids learn through doing, through play and through experience,” Mrs. Allison said. “And so we’ve been able to talk about Kuwait, the military and family, and even families that have to be apart.”
The books sent by Lt. Allison are often tied into everyday lessons as well. During a week long theme on bears, the school was fortunate enough to receive a “Lieutenant Dan book” called The Bear Ate Your Sandwich. A Soldier’s Night Before Christmas, a student and faculty favorite, came right before the student’s Christmas break.

“Dan had no idea what we were doing in class,” Mrs. Allison said with a smile, “but the books kept coming at just the right time. The books sent by Lt. Allison are kept on a special shelf in her room where they are routinely borrowed by other teachers to be read allowed to the students, who always love hearing them.

The student’s celebrated Lt. Allison’s arrival with a cupcake party where he was able to visit each of the students for a personal introduction. That’s an experience the students and faculty of the First Presbyterian Preschool, won’t soon forget.