When an opportunity presents itself that allows the students to get out of the classroom, I always take it. So when my colleague and I were asked to pull together the Veteran's Day assembly this year, we took it as a great opportunity to allow the students the chance to learn firsthand what it means to serve our country.
We invited about 50 Veterans and active service members to attend our assembly and enjoy lunch with our 8th grade students. Being our school is in a town with a naval base, some of our students are part of military families. They know what it's like to move every three years and start fresh in a new town, a new country, making new fri
ends. But the others don't know what it's like to lose a parent to active duty for an extended period of time. So, this provided a great opportunity to get everyone on the same page.
We started in Language Arts by reading a short story written by Gary Paulsen titled, "Stop the Sun." It is about a boy who's father, a Vietnam veteran, has a PTSD episode while shopping in the mall. Reading this as a class gave us an opportunity to research the Vietnam War, and America's reaction to it and those who served in it. We talked about the draft, and how it changed the lives of many teenagers and young adults during that time. And, we looked at Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and how it can affect so many people.
The assembly began with the entire student body giving a standing ovation to the guests as they were escorted into our gymnasium. The bleachers were filled with students from grades Pre-K to 8, holding signs and clapping for them. Our guests were very touched, and surprised, by the welcome they received. The local high school junior ROTC members presented the Colors and demonstrated their drills. Our presentation followed, with students speaking about the history of Veterans Day, and describing each branch of the armed services. Members of each branch were asked to stand to be recognized, and again, they seemed genuinely touched.
As part of the assembly, we showed a short video about a grandfather trying to show his grandchildren what it meant to be a veteran. Of course, the grandsons were more interested in their phones then in what their grandfather was showing them. But at the end of the video, the boys begin to understand what their grandfather was explaining. When some active service members enter the picture, the grandfather stands and salutes them, and the boys follow that gesture. At this point, our entire student body stood and saluted our guests. And they stood and saluted back. Well, needless to say, not only were our guests crying at this point, so was everyone in the bleachers!
Here's the link - but I will warn you - you'll need tissues:
The school's small chorus then led us all in a rendition of "God Bless the USA". It was the perfect ending for the assembly. As students filed out, they shook hands with the guests, thanking them for their service. Once the gym emptied, our 8th grade students escorted the guests into our Media Center to have lunch and chat.
Many of the veterans who attended our assembly were veterans of the Vietnam war, which allowed the students to hear first hand accounts of how the draft changed the lives of many young men and women during that timeframe, and what combat was like. One veteran spoke about his suffering from PTSD, and the students were well equipped to speak with them all about these topics because of the research and reading we'd done prior to the event.
After the guests left, the students had very positive comments about the time spent with our veterans and active service members. Many of them walked away with a deeper understanding of what life in the military is all about. I can say that the exchanges that occurred over that lunch of sandwiches and potato salad was much more meaningful than anything they'd ever read in a textbook. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. What those students learned that day could not have occurred inside our classroom or by reading a textbook. We're already planning for next year's event...