In Brenda Rico’s fifth-grade class at Gilbert’s Finley Farms Elementary School, some of her students cried as she read aloud “The Wall” by Eve Bunting.
The following day, Rico discussed the emotional story about a boy and his father who visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. She told her students it was OK to cry, and that they should never be embarrassed to show their emotions.
The book led to stories of family members who had served in the armed services, discussion about the current wars and a letter-writing assignment to military personnel serving overseas.
“They just wrote from the heart, showing their appreciation to veterans for the sacrifices they made to their country,” Rico said. “They kind of talked about how it would be nice if we could all get along.”
It’s a scene that occurred throughout schools last week as students celebrated and learned about American veterans past and present.
As students shared stories of their grandparents, uncles or dads who fought, the meaning of the Veterans Day holiday hit closer to home as students discussed the current war and shared even more stories of neighbors or family friends who are fighting now.
“The holiday now is real for them,” said Rico, who has been teaching for 20 years. “When I first started teaching, it was more like the history book Veterans Day, and now these kids know exactly what it means to have someone away and in danger. It’s a lot more passionate now.”
In Phyllis Bellemare’s third-grade class at Higley’s Chaparral Elementary School, she needed to explain to her students why the Veterans Day holiday is celebrated.
“Ninety-eight percent of my students didn’t know why they had the day off,” she said. “It is a holiday that I think some people tend to forget, and I don’t think it should ever be forgotten.”
Bellemare talked to her students about honoring service personnel who have kept citizens free to do the things they want, such as freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Her students wore pajamas to school on Friday and tried to read as many books as they could in 90 minutes, to celebrate the freedom to read whatever they wanted.
“It probably makes more of an impact in them now because they know soldiers,” she said. “When my children were being raised it was different because we were in peacetime. It hits home more because it is something that’s in our everyday life. They know either friends, distant relatives or neighbors who have been in a war.”
The holiday couldn’t hit closer to home for Pam Van Slyke, a Finley Farms administrative assistant whose 30-year-old son just returned from his third tour overseas.
U.S. Marine Capt. Bradley Van Slyke spoke Friday at the school’s Veterans Day assembly. Students also sang patriotic songs and watched a slide show of veterans known to the school community.
“We’ve talked about doing an assembly like this for several years,” Pam Van Slyke said. “It’s just a very special time for many of us on staff who have had family members serve. It’s a privilege and an honor to respect the veterans at our school.”