Editor’s note: Schools across Kent County observed Veterans Day with a variety of events. Here is a sampling.
Boys Scouts brought up the flag; “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” was sung; red, white and blue were worn; and “thank you for serving” was heard everywhere at Countryside Elementary during its annual Veterans Day ceremonies. Principal Jolynne Dobson doesn’t think those words of gratitude are enough.
“I wish there was a better word in our vocabulary than thank-you,” she told the assembly. This was the seventh year the school had celebrated veterans with a special program.
“It’s our favorite assembly,” Dobson said. “We get to honor those in the military who served.”
The middle school student council, along with other students, shared photographs of their relatives in uniform: black-and-white, sepia, faded Polaroids and digital, showing service members next to war planes in Vietnam, in fighter jets skirting mountain ranges, with their children, and in newspaper clippings of those that died in battle.
It became real, textural, and emotional for the students as they studied the images of wartime from World War II to Afghanistan and Iraq.
“These photos really point to a specific moment in time. Like this one is from the Pacific, you can tell by the land and the palm trees,” said eighth-grader Jhace Metzger, student council vice-president.
As the student council adhered the images onto spangled scrapbooking paper and adorned them with stars and stripes, staff and fellow students paused at the display and vowed to go home and find their own photos of service members to post.
“It’s a simple yet meaningful way to add a rich layer of personal meaning to what they’ve learned in social studies classes throughout their school careers,” said Anne Waldie, assistant principal.
Last year, East Kentwood High School student Ana Tran attended a West Michigan Armed Forces Thanksgiving event, which brought together veterans and students in downtown Grand Rapids. While there, she met Col. Shawn Harris. Ana recently saw Harris at a local coffee shop and invited him to visit her school on Veterans Day.
“This is great. The kids are taking time to learn more about the military and veterans,” said Harris, a 38-year U.S. Army and U.S. Marines veteran who took Ana up on her invitation to attend the meet-and-greet event to connect students with veterans.
Ana, a junior, said last year’s Thanksgiving event inspired her to organize the celebration. “It really opened my eyes about what they have done for our country.”
Student Council members hosted the veterans, including several East Kentwood alumni. They spent the time eating cake and talking to students about the armed forces and their experiences.
“I thought this could be a way for East Kentwood and our community to show our appreciation for our veterans,” Ana said. “We wanted to get the community together and have a common interest, talk to each other, communicate, get students involved and aware of what the veterans have done for us.”
Local veterans from VFW Post 702 and Auxiliary, Wyoming-Grandville, shared artifacts and authentic military gear with curious West Elementary students.
While checking out maps, photos and memorabilia from U.S. wars, students listened to the retired vets talk about their time in the service. Every Veterans Day, the VFW post chooses to visit a Wyoming or Grandville school, bringing American flags and bookmarks for every student.
“The kids get a big kick out of seeing and feeling the artifacts,” said veteran Ron Oakes, who served in the Vietnam War with the U.S. Marine Corps.