Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Marines write, visit all-boy class at Westside Elementary School

SPRING HILL — Helen Shepard, a Westside Elementary School third-grade teacher, has an all-boy class.

At the beginning of the school year, Shepard and her students shared a bit about themselves to get to know one another. She told the boys about her son, Jesse, 20, who was in Marine Corps boot camp. The boys were fascinated with this, and they soon became pen pals with Jesse.

"They were constantly writing notes of encouragement to him, and he would write back," Shepard said. "Knowing that he had a group of 18 boys that looked up to him cheered him and helped to make the time go by."

During leave after boot camp, Jesse visited the classroom to meet the boys.

"He talked about what it means to be a Marine, what boot camp was like, the importance of being a respectful citizen and what a privilege it is to get an education," Shepard said.

Jesse left to attend school and learn the mechanics of jet engines, where he met fellow Marine Jeremiah Allies, 19.

The students continued corresponding with Jesse. "They seemed more motivated to succeed in school and couldn't wait to see Jesse again," Shepard said.

Jesse, a 2007 Nature Coast Technical High School graduate, said he wanted to be a Marine since childhood. He is heading to South Carolina soon and is an F-18 mechanic.

On a recent leave, Jesse and Allies came back to Hernando County and spent a lot of time at the school.

Allies is from a small Idaho town and has wanted to be a Marine since he was 7. He is from a military family and considers Spring Hill "a big city." Jesse didn't have to twist Allies' arm to go to the school.

"I love kids," Allies said. "That's what I wanted to do when I got here, was to come to a classroom."

"One day they came for a question-and-answer session," Shepard said. "The next day they played a game of baseball with the boys. One day they read to the class and escorted each student to the school library. At the end of the week they came back to participate in our Olympic games."

Those games, the beginning of the class' Olympiad Unit, included battery-operated car races, tower building, making electricity and a dominoes event. These activities were financed by a grant Shepard received from Progress Energy.

Vincent D'Alessandro, 9, is one of the Marines' fans. "I think it's really cool (that the Marines came to visit)," he said.

Jake Toomer, 8, shared why he thinks the men visited. "They came to tell us what it's like to be in the Marines and show us how hard it is to be in the Marines."

"They were in the room every day this week during their week off, volunteering," Shepard said. "They also showed students physical drills of what it was like for them during training. The students also participated in these drills."

Shepard calls the visits and the writing her "Marine Buddy" program. "The two Marines, they've done a lot for the kids," Shepard said. " 'Marine Buddies' has been a success that I hope will grow and continue for many years."

This might work out, as both young men said they are in the Marines for the long haul.

Paulette Lash Ritchie can be reached at

Marines write, visit all-boy class at Westside Elementary School 04/01/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 3:34pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trump reveals that he didn't record Comey after all


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Thursday he never made and doesn't have recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI director James Comey, ending a monthlong guessing game that he started with a cryptic tweet and that ensnared his administration in yet more controversy.

    President Donald Trump said Thursday that he didn’t record his conversations with James Comey.
  2. Lightning fans, don't get attached to your first-round draft picks

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — When Lightning GM Steve Yzerman announces his first-round pick Friday night in the amateur draft at No. 14, he'll invite the prospect onto the stage for the once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) eludes  Montreal Canadiens left wing Phillip Danault (24) during the second period of Wednesday???‚??„?s (12/28/16) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens at the Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  3. Investigation Discovery TV show profiles 2011 Landy Martinez murder case


    The murder of a St. Petersburg man will be featured this week on a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery.

    Jose Adame sits in a Pinellas County courtroom during his 2016 trial and conviction for first-degree murder. Adame was convicted of first-degree murder last year for torturing and then executing his boyfriend as he pleaded for his life in 2011. Now it will be featured in a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery. The episode will air on June 26 at 9 p.m. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  4. Uhuru mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel protests exclusion from debate


    ST. PETERSBURG — Jesse Nevel, the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement candidate for mayor, on Thursday demanded that he be allowed to participate in a July 25 televised debate between incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and challenger Rick Baker.

    Mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel holds a news conference outside the headquarters of the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday to protest his exclusion from the mayoral debate. Nevel is a member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.
  5. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman also has top-9 wing on his wish list

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — Much has been made about the Lightning's interest in bolstering its blue line, even after last week's acquisition of defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

    Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gestures as he speaks to the media about recent trades during a news conference before an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning, over the past few days, have traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, forward Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and forward Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA101