HEIDELBERG, Germany -- A group of students in the Heidelberg community were able to celebrate Thanksgiving for the first time, thanks to a few Americans willing to take the time.

Members of the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program and the U.S. Army Garrison Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg Public Affairs Office visited the Englisches Institut Grundschule, a bilingual German elementary school in Heidelberg, Nov. 26.

Dan Bland, an American who teaches third and fourth grade at the school, decided this year to teach his students about Thanksgiving, since the school is so culturally diverse, and to help introduce them to even more American customs. With the help of some Army friends, his class learned the cultures and traditions of one of the most traditional American holidays.

"The bottom line is that there is a significant American presence in the form of Army personnel in Heidelberg," Bland said. "Instead of seeing this as a simple fact, I have chosen to use this presence as a learning tool for my children. Americans and Germans living in the Heidelberg area should utilize each other in achieving common goals."

BOSS President Spc. Meagan Noles said it is important to get involved in activities like this to not only teach the students, but also to learn for herself. Her favorite part of the day was just working with the kids.

"Coming here, working with little kids, I love it," she said. "I have a lot of siblings. So to come here and to work with Germans is a good experience. "As Soldiers overseas learning another language and being with the community, it gives us a better understanding of how the Germans are," she said. "It helps us learn more about the environment that we are in. Being able to do this teaches me a lot about what Germany has to offer."

The Americans and Germans worked together first to make paper turkey hats and ate 'pilgrim hats' - marshmallow and cookie treats made to look similar to pilgrim hats - which quickly turned into a favorite of the German students.

"The pilgrim hats were so yummy!" said Tim Vormwald, 9. "It was lots of fun!"

Vormwald said he lived in Michigan for two years while his dad worked there, so having American visitors was extra special for him.

"I wanted to see other people that come from America and talk to them a little bit," he said.

After eating the treats, each student read aloud in English from a card on which earlier in the week they had written what they were thankful for.

Answers from students included family, life, medicine, freedom, knowledge, school, animals and sports.

Then, the Americans took their turns saying what they were thankful for, and the answers were very much like the Germans'.

Afterwards, everyone tried another Thanksgiving favorite - pumpkin pie. Bland said bringing other Americans to his students is a good way for him to let them have fun but also gauge their English progress as well.

"It is a very useful tool in helping me genuinely assess my students' English speaking abilities," he said. "My students are very used to hearing me speak English, and communication for me is easier because I know the words that they know. When outside English speakers come to the classroom it gives me a chance to evaluate how my students respond to different vocabularies, pronunciations, and accents. It creates more of a real-world experience for my students and will help their confidence grow."

BOSS volunteer Sgt. Maurice Luckett said he enjoyed his time with the students.

"My favorite part was making the hats," he said. "It was fun to work with the students. I've been here since 2005 and never done anything like this. It's important to show them that we enjoy Germany too."

Bland thinks the visit helped him and his students in more ways than just introducing the students to an American holiday.

"The best part of the visit, for me, was to see my students use what they had learned in English class," he said. "Communication is such an important part of our lives, and to see my students communicating in English made me feel like I have been successful ... To many Germans the Army presence in Heidelberg is sort of a mystery. They know that there are some areas where they are not allowed and that there are sometimes Soldiers in uniform around. My students got a firsthand view today that Americans are normal people too. This experience leaves them with an impression that Americans are good people and a better understanding of American culture."

Nine-year-old Chenny Pelz agreed with her teacher. Her favorite part of having the Americans visit her classroom for the afternoon' "All of it!" she said.

(Editor's Note: Kristen Marquez works in the USAG Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg Public Affairs Office.)