ADAMS TWP — A veterans' program at the Mars Centennial School not only teaches sixth graders the selfless attitude of service and sacrifice, it has garnered a dedicated teacher a state award.
The Sixth Grade Veterans Day Program was held for the fifth consecutive year on Thursday.
It began as a flag-folding ceremony attended by veterans that was promoted by retired social studies teacher Peg Harding. It has since been augmented with more activities each year by current social studies teacher Lori Jones.
In addition to several other patriotic facets of the program, Jones added a play she had written that has groups of sixth graders take the stage for their parts.
Jones' fellow members of the Pennsylvania Association for Geography Education submitted the nameless play for an award. She was recently notified that she was the winner of the Outstanding Social Studies Project Award from the Pennsylvania Council for the Social Studies.
But Jones is quick to deflect accolades because her students work hard to perform the play and to carry out the program.
“I was thrilled because it validates what my kids are working so hard to do,” Jones said. “It was an honor, but I give the credit to my kids.”
Centennial Principal Todd Lape said Jones' passion for the Veterans Day Program is infectious and sincere.
“This is a passion of hers,” Lape said. “The first year I arrived at Mars, I was blown away by the program, and it's gotten better every year.”
Lape said the community has come to anticipate the program, which teaches students an important lesson.
“It is definitely time well spent talking about our veterans and the sacrifices they made for us,” Lape said.
At Thursday's event veterans of all ages were invited for a noon reception, where they received corsages from students and perused the military memorabilia displayed.
As the veterans arrived, sixth grader and Navy Sea Cadet Ian Sleigh gave a presentation on the time he spent aboard the battleship New Jersey and the U.S.S. Little Rock.
At 1 p.m. the students, teachers and veterans assembled in the gymnasium. Vietnam War veteran Gene Wise and Korean War veteran Lou Bauldoff then explained the POW/MIA memorial table, which is set up for a formal dinner at veterans' events to signify that society has held a place for each of the thousands of prisoners of war or soldiers missing in action who never returned home.
A video titled “American Blood” was shown along with a PowerPoint presentation.
“It really gets the kids thinking about how serious it is to be a soldier,” Jones said.
Her award-winning play then began with sixth grader Vincenzia Vargo introducing the groups of students who tell the audience about branches of the service, the history of the American flag, the history of Veterans Day and other lessons.
“It's an educational play,” Jones said.
Patriotic songs from the World War II era followed, then fifth graders from Jodi Harbison and Brian Zima's classes performed a choral recitation of the Gettysburg Address.
Guest speaker Greg Haus, whose son is a Marine deployed to Afghanistan, told students what it's like for families back home whose loved one is serving in an overseas conflict. Former Green Beret Jim Miller, who was movingly introduced by his daughter, Alexa, told the students of the training and special operations involved in the Army's elite Green Beret special forces.
Perhaps the most stirring part of the event is the end, during which 68 students perform a flag-folding ceremony. Students and their unfurled flags surround the gym, and the significance of each fold is explained as the students complete the folds.
“Even the kids who do not have a speaking part get to participate in the flag folding,” Jones said.
The strains of the bugle call taps then filled the gymnasium. Each veteran, individually introduced by Jones, received a standing ovation.
The program ended with the playing of “Proud To Be An American” by Lee Greenwood.
“I had one little boy who started to cry, he was just so moved,” Jones recalled.
To demonstrate other selfless means of service, Jones invited several first responders. Students could ask police officers, firefighters and paramedics questions about their emergency vehicles, which were parked on the playground.
“The purpose is that even though the play is for veterans, we want to acknowledge other ways we can give to our nation,” Jones said.
Jones said the Veterans Day Program benefits students educationally on a number of levels and gives them a sense of accomplishment. But she said a deep appreciation of veterans is the most important lesson of the day.
“Kids today may not be aware of how many people have gone out and supported our country, with some having made the ultimate sacrifice,” Jones said. “I hope it demonstrates the risk these veterans are taking to protect us.”