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In this era of texts and emails, it’s rare to write a letter— and even more rare when you get one back from the president of the United States.

But on Dec. 23, 2013, President Barack Obama addressed a letter to the ninth-grade students at John F. Kennedy High School, Silver Spring, thanking them for “the thoughtful letters you sent about the difference each of you can make in the lives of others.”

The ninth-grade English students, about 350 of them, wrote the letters for a mandatory assignment explaining why it is their responsibility to make a difference in their community, said Ashley DeLonga, one of Kennedy’s ninth-grade English teachers.

The writing project was more than just thinking of something nice to do in the community and writing about it, DeLonga said.

“They had to go out to the community and do something or create an action plan for what they would do, ” she said.

Obama’s letter helped the students realize the importance of their commitment to their community, the teachers said.

“... I could see that you understand service does more than help the causes we gather around — it helps those of us who choose to serve recognize our own potential,” Obama wrote. “If you remain committed to helping others, and if you focus in school and believe in yourselves, I know there is no limit to what you can accomplish.”

Classmate Dehuris Mateo said he was happy to hear from the president and learn that he was actually reading the letters.

Dehuris said his plan was to welcome new people to his neighborhood by talking to them, even making brownies as a welcome gift.

“Sometimes they don’t feel they belong in the neighborhood,” he said. “This would make you just feel welcome.”

Dehuris also said his letter to Obama was the first letter he ever wrote.

When Jennifer Pineda, a ninth-grader at John F. Kennedy High School, Silver Spring, heard that Obama responded to the letters her class wrote him this fall she was “shocked.”

“I was very shocked because usually the president doesn’t take time to write a letter back,” Jennifer said. “He’s so busy.”

Another student, Josias Worou, said that before Thanksgiving he helped pack boxes of food for the needy. He said that in his letter he added facts for the president about the increasing number of needy people in the United States.

“I was not expecting a response,” he said. “He thanked us for taking actions to help the population.”

Yaritza Padilla’s project was to gather unused clothing from her family and donate them to the needy using a clothing drop box near her home.

“It made me feel good about myself,” she said. “I wanted to share what I had.”

She said it also felt good to know that the president knew what she had done.

Marianny Calderon agreed that getting the letter felt good, knowing that someone appreciated what she had done. Her project was to take food and clothes to a local food kitchen and homeless shelter.

The English teachers — DeLonga, Kelley Adams, Anne Reiner and Jessica Lidh — thought the writing assignment was a success and the response from the president a bonus.

“We wanted to make these kids realize they actually are important to society,” Lidh said. “At this age they aren’t children and they aren’t adults, but they can still make a difference.”

pmcewan@gazette.net