Summit County third-grader’s story to air on Today Show |

Summit County third-grader’s story to air on Today Show

Robert Allen
Summit County, CO Colorado
Mark Fox/Summit DailySummit Cove Elementary third-grader Jacob Poehls reads emails he sent to a U.S. soldier in Iraq as Ray Farmer, left, and Jack Chesnutt, both with NBC News out of Denver, tape a segment Tuesday morning.

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado – A Summit County, Colorado third-grader who came to appreciate reading and writing through a Marine penpal is to be featured on The Today Show next week.

Jacob Poehls and his mother, Nora Hall, have never been to New York City. Hall said the boy is excited to see the Statue of Liberty.

But for Jacob, 8, sightseeing isn’t top priority.

“My penpal is what I care about,” he said.

An NBC producer and photographer followed the two through their morning routine on Tuesday ” including Jacob enjoying a bowl of Life cereal ” and accompanied them to class at Summit Cove Elementary.

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“It’s a day in the life of Jacob,” Hall said.

Producer Jack Chesnutt said the segment, which will probably last about 2-1/2 minutes compiled from about an hour of shooting, likely will run on the morning of Feb. 12. There may also be a surprise in store for Jacob.

In the family’s Summit Cove home, a camouflage hat and CamelBak were laid on the coffee table. Jacob said the water pack is a recent gift from his friend, Sgt. Baltazar Pineda.

Hall said there was Iraqi dust all over the CamelBak when they received it. In his most recent e-mail, dated Feb. 1, Pineda said he had been busy with the Iraqi elections, which were on Saturday.

“Thank you for letting me know that you appreciate me fighting for freedom. It’s what Marines have done since the start of the United States,” he said in the message.

Jacob read for the NBC crew several of the messages he’s sent Pineda. Despite the pressure of four journalists and two cameras, the lad read clearly and with precision.

“I am getting a lot of ‘excellents’ on my report card,” Jacob read, adding that he “can hardly wait” until June, when Pineda may visit Summit Cove.

“Keep safe, from Jacob,” he said. “I really, really, really love you.”

Before leaving the house, Jacob and his mother packed a large box full of stuffed animals to send to soldiers, who will distribute them to Iraqi children.

“We’re going to attempt to let go of them,” Hall said, adding that Jacob was having a tough time parting with the furry toys.

Though Pineda has been Jacob’s penpal since last fall, he likely will be back in the United States by the time this shipment reaches Iraq. The two will remain pals, and Pineda may bring his 7-year-old daughter to Summit County this June ” to meet Jacob and his family.

Jacob said he’s hoping Pineda, who’s in his mid-30s, will take him to a shooting range to discharge firearms.

With Pineda returning, Jacob has adopted a new friend. Paratrooper Greg Moreland, 25, has been exchanging e-mails with the boy.

Other students in Jacob’s class also have adopted soldiers through Hall said a local Girl Scout troop has ordered a special, early shipment of cookies to send with the next shipment of packages.

Inside the Summit Cove Elementary’s front doors is a large assortment of gifts to which even people outside Jacob’s class have contributed.

Jen Leslie, Jacob’s teacher, said this shipment will be the first since the holiday season and will include toys, food and necessities.

Her students ” who all wore yellow Summit Cove shirts to school ” spent time Tuesday preparing valentines to send the soldiers. They also discussed the Iraq war and the country’s millions of orphaned children.

Leslie said the students have been studying Iraq’s culture.

“It makes them feel really fortunate,” she said, adding that it has cultivated empathy and “the need to give to others.”

The attention Jacob’s story has received from local media and even CNN has “made him shine.”

“He’s kind of like a little star,” Leslie said.

When the school year began last fall, Jacob’s mother was losing sleep trying to encourage the special-needs student to appreciate academics.

Leslie said the student’s progress has improved noticeably since he began conversing with Pineda; his confidence has increased, and he raises his hand more often in class.

“He’s really writing more complex sentences and putting more thought into what he’s saying,” she said.

In messages to Pineda, Jacob has mentioned his vision therapy.

Gordon Poehls, Jacob’s father, spends a couple days each week with the boy. He said the vision therapy is an option to help with a problem in which one eye lags behind as Jacob reads.

“He’s made considerable progress ” he reads good,” Poehls said.

Hall said the communication with the soldier provided “a great push.”

“I’m so proud of my son,” she said. “His confidence level has gone up so much.”

Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or

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