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Gym show beamed to the front lines to keep J-E dad connected to home

When the Meili family moved into the Jordan-Elbridge community from Texas a few years ago, Cindy Meili said she was nervous.

It was the first time she, husband John and sons Ryan and Jeremy had lived outside of a military-focused community in 17 years, and the first time that all of the boys' classmates and families were not "in the same boat."

"Not very many people understand the stress military kids go through," she said. Like last month when John was deployed, which meant he would miss Jeremy's performance in the annual Elbridge Elementary First Grade Gym Show on Feb. 11.

"We knew the gym show was coming up and Jeremy was really excited about it, then we found out his dad had to be deployed," Cindy said. John is a Air National Guard captain with the 152nd Air Operations Group at Hancock Field.

But thanks to a little ingenuity, the Internet and the support of the school district, the Meilis found a way to keep John from missing the act.

The first grade gym classes perform the gym show one evening each year for parents, demonstrating the exercises and teamwork learned throughout the year. As a warm-up and a special treat for the other students, they perform a day earlier in front of peers.

This year's rehearsal, though, was something a little different. Cindy Meili sat in the audience among Elbridge Elementary students, streaming video of the performance directly to her husband John overseas.

"Just to have him viewing it -- it was a really special moment between the two of them," Cindy said. "It's really important that they stay connected when we can, when he's away."

She said at first the school had concerns about the privacy of the other students and having the video on the Internet. But since the Meilis use an instant messaging program to chat every day, the video stayed private and was only viewable by John.

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