The Core Standards of Veterans Day
by Tim Ramsey
Throughout the week, students and their teachers bustled about covering every window, door, wall, fence - every inch of the campus with red, white and blue decorations. Streamers hung from the ceilings inside, from the rafters outside, and even from every tree in the courtyard. Celebrating Veterans Day is a big thing at my school - almost as exciting as the Christmas season that follows.
Last minute touches were being made as the sun began to set Thursday evening. Finally, students began calling their parents for late rides home. When the sun rose less than twelve hours later, these very same students and their teachers were back hanging balloon arches, additional signage and streamers. They set up chairs for the many veterans who would attend the annual ceremony. They greeted men and women representing the Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard. They escorted each to the hospitality room for coffee and pastries and then to their seats. The students stood to the side waiting to assist in any way necessary.
Parents and community members streamed onto the campus around 8 a.m. Previous experience had guided them to arrive early in order to get a parking spot and a good place to watch the festivities.
As soon as morning attendance had been completed, classes began to file out to their assigned areas upon the damp lawn. Most teachers had arrived prior to the start of the day and placed blankets and plastic tarps down for their children.
As the master of ceremony for this, my seventh year, I stood at the podium and marveled as the patriotism glowed with the red, white and blue garments of the children and adults before me. I looked to my right and saw the veterans seated and said a silent prayer of thanks, remembering my own father, an Air Force veteran in his own right. Ten years previously, he had attended the celebration with my mother. Now, because he is in the late stages of dementia, he had to be resigned to sitting at home. It is interesting to me that, often in his confused conversation, he speaks of the military. I shake my head as if I understand and listen.
We began with the high school Color Guard presenting the flag. All of the children, from the five-year-olds in the front to the fourteen-year-olds in the back, stood in a respectful silence. Then they all joined in unison for the Pledge of Allegiance and sang "The Star-Spangled Banner." The voice of an older gentleman in a wheelchair sailed over all other voices. This encouraged the rest of the crowd to take on the song with more determination.
The choir sang "God Bless the USA," and the audience sang along. The principal and assistant principal both spoke of honor, truth and patriotism. Then the choir sang a medley of fight songs for each branch of service. Veterans stood at attention when their specific song was sung. As each group stood, the crowd gave a roaring round of applause.
As the assembly came to a close, I reminded students to take a moment from their three-day vacation from school to honor those who had worked to give them a better life. I challenged them to set the alarms on their iPhones to 11 a.m. on Monday to carry on the tradition of recognizing veterans at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
In most schools, students would be sent back to a regular day of academic routine. Not so with my school. The experience was just beginning.
Each class had its own agenda for the day. There was time set aside for kids to look at military vehicles on campus. Some were even allowed to climb aboard the trucks and tanks! There was a giant card offered by the Blue Star Moms for kids to sign and send messages to military personnel abroad. And there were many break-out sessions for students to attend in which they listened to men and women from various wars share their experiences.
The first speaker my students listened to was an 89-year-old Navy retiree, who coincidentally was the golden-voiced singer during the national anthem. It turns out he was also a retired opera singer who had once sung with the great soprano, Maria Callas! Dr. Rochelle explained to the kids that he was legally blind and restricted to a wheelchair but that he was not a quitter, that he still worked sixteen hours a day. He shared of his experiences during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The children were mesmerized, silent - engaged. Many asked questions which Dr. Rochelle eagerly answered. Near the end of the session, one of my boys spoke: "I just wanted to tell you," he began, "that you are a true inspiration to us. You have done things that we will probably never have to do, and you've made the world a good place for us. I just wanted to say thank you."
Our day continued with more speakers and a few videos. The whole school lined the campus sidewalk to cheer on the little kids in the annul K-2 Patriot Parade. The little ones marched holding decorations and waving to the crowd. The older kids clapped and waved back.
Lunch was held outside at the picnic tables. Hot dogs were grilled; ice cream was served. Parents, grandparents, teachers and children mingled and ate in the warmth of the Arizona sun.
There are some who would say that spending an entire day on such celebrations is a waste of time. Many of these individuals are the same people who complain that today's youth are not as patriotic as their counterparts even ten years ago. I would most definitely disagree with them as I have witnessed over and over again the respect that pours from the hearts of the kids at my school each November.
Still, these doubters will push, "Where in the standards is such 'frittering away' of important academic time?" I would agree, but sadly so, that there are no standards for the things taught to our kids during this particular day. Yes, children should be able to succeed as readers and writers and problem solvers. But they also must possess the core standards of Veterans Day:
1. Attentiveness to others: Listening to others, especially their elders in order to learn about events from the past.
2. Empathy: Understanding how others feel or have felt in the past as they served this great nation. Most children are highly egocentric. This is natural - most kids believe they are the center of the universe, that the world revolves around them. They must learn that the world was revolving long before they ever arrived on this planet. They must learn to feel the emotions of those who came before them
3. Compassion and Community Service: Caring about others and working to make sure that others are happy, healthy, safe and living in peace. Kids may learn how to identify a VCCV pattern in the words they read, but they may never learn to take care of the other human beings in their lives.
4. Commitment and Perseverance: Sticking with a task until it is finished. In our media-drenched, attention-deficit world, this is definitely a necessity. Our country would definitely not be the same had those who were chosen to defend it decided to give up when things got boring or to arduous.
5. Connection to others: Children today need to feel connected to the past, to today, to the future. They must feel connected to other human beings. They must believe that they belong in a world that will love and support them.
The veterans who visited Friday used their time quite wisely. They did a great job of teaching these core standards.
Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2013.
Tim Ramsey has been an educator in the public school setting for 31 years. He taught for 15 years at the elementary, junior high and high school levels. He worked the next 15 years as a school administrator. He recently retired, but has since returned to the classroom as a fifth grade teacher. He teaches at the community college level as well. Tim is an avid writer. His book, "The Hugs on My Shirt," chronicles many of his experiences within the school setting.
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