WESTMINSTER - Learning about chemical warfare isn't usually part of the lesson plan for high school students, but the lingering Persian Gulf crisis has moved discussion about today's headlines into many Carroll County classrooms.
From social studies to language arts classes, students are learning about the Middle East conflict. Some are receiving brief overviews, while others are delving into its causes and effects.
At the same time, a letter-writing campaign to soldiers stationed in the Middle East is gaining momentum at both West Middle School and Westminster High School.
Walter N. Dyky, assistant principal at Westminster High School, is playing a dual role in the Middle East lesson plan.
Dyky, who serves in the Maryland National Guard, recently taught a lesson on chemical warfare to juniors and seniors taking an advanced social studies class called "Modern World History." His lesson included the display of actual chemical warfare suits, borrowed from the local Maryland National Guard unit.
Although giggles erupted when junior Heidi Woerner and senior Ricky Bohn first donned the suits, the classroom became solemn when Dyky discussed the effects of chemical agents on humans.
"I think it depressed them," said Linda Wheeler, their teacher. "Most of them know someone over there. The lesson gave them food for thought, especially seeing someone in the classroom dressed up like that."
As events have unraveled, Wheeler said her students have discussed U.S. foreign policy, President Bush's decision for sending forces over there and for calling up the reserves.
"A lot of the lesson is planned day by day because you don't know what's going to happen from day to day. I'm constantly reading as many different sources as I can," she said.
Dyky's other role in these maneuvers is as the coordinator of the high school's letter-writing campaign, slated to kick off this week. Dyky's goal is not only to send 2,000 letters to the Middle East, but to keep students writing as long as the crisis continues.
The campaign, though, is the brainchild of Westminster resident Nancy Spaugh, whose 20-year-old son, Gerald M. Rosier, a 1988 graduate of Westminster High School, is stationed somewhere in the Middle East.
Although Spaugh and her family have written Jerry regularly, she said she is concerned about other soldiers who may not be receiving mail from home.
"I was watching the mail call on CNN, and there was a soldier who was waiting for his name to be called. I could see he was so hurt when there was nothing for him," she recalled.
"It really bothered me," she added. "I started thinking what could I do about this and I started making phone calls."
Her calls to Westminster High School and West Middle School ignited action.
Dyky announced the letter-writing drive to the school faculty Friday.
In his memo, he wrote, "A few paragraphs will mean so much to these brave men and women on the other side of the world as they face uncertainty in a very volatile region."
Students have been asked to keep their letters light with news of school and community activities, to thank soldiers for their role in a "difficult situation" and to offer them encouragement by letting them know the people back home are supportive.
Dyky said he hopes students include photos with their letters. But because Saudi Arabia has very strict rules about photos, girls have been asked not to send photos of themselves wearing bathing suits or low-cut or revealing clothes.
Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students at West Middle School are writing letters to U.S. soldiers stationed abroad as well.
Along with the writing exercise in their language arts courses, the students received background information on the situation from social studies teachers.
"They really like the idea," said SuHelen Myers, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at West Middle. "Children this age like writing letters. They hope to get responses. Most have written, 'Please write back.' " Myers has not made the project mandatory for her students.
"Those who wish to write, may. It's their choice," she said.
Spaugh is hoping that more than just these schools become involved. She said she has solicited support from various community organizations and businesses.
"The response has been fantastic," she said. "I'm looking for someone to help coordinate this."
Copyright The Baltimore Sun 1990