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Reading, writing and serving, in memory of Ryan

Service project for veterans a way to learn about leaving legacies  

Grandville — What kind of legacy have military veterans left for the country they served? And what kind of legacy do you want to leave in your life?

Those were the questions faced by Grandville Middle School eighth-graders recently, as their language arts classes studied both veterans’ issues and the idea of leaving a legacy. Both concepts were inspired by former student Ryan Fischer, who passed away in 2014 and who has inspired a focus of caring for others in the Grandville community. 

“I want to be known as a kind, fun-to-be-around person — like, just a good person,” eighth-grader Mia Plowman said. “Ryan was just an amazing person overall, and he left that legacy that our school tries to follow. He was caring, he stuck up for people, and so we all try to follow that. 

“He was honestly a good person, so I want to strive to make myself more of a better person, kind of like he was, for my legacy.”

Since Ryan had wanted to join the military, it made sense to study veterans and their legacy in class and tie that in with a semester-end community service project, language arts teacher Lisa Figurski said. 

“We teach the kids about giving their time, talent and treasure, which is what veterans do for us, and it’s what (students) can do in return,” she said. 

Serious Topics and Holiday Cheer

Just before the winter break, classes spent time learning about veterans by reading poetry, news articles, and both fiction and nonfiction stories about the military, the Vietnam War, combat skills and how some in the military have chosen to give back after their time in the service. They studied difficult concepts like post-traumatic stress disorder and watched TED Talks and interviews online to hear directly from veterans about their experiences. 

As they read, the eighth-graders got practice looking for symbolism and other literary devices, and also learned how to annotate the articles they read. 

Zach Vidro, whose grandfather served in the Vietnam War, said he was particularly impacted to learn about PTSD, what it’s caused by and how it can affect members of the military in particular. 

“We focused a lot on how it affected a lot of people in very negative ways, such as flashbacks to where you feel like you’re back in (a war) environment,” he said. “To be brought back to the exact same incident over and over, that would be terrible. … I’m glad we could study it because (veterans) are not as respected as they used to be, and that’s just really upsetting.” 

For the service project aspect of the unit, students drafted letters of gratitude and holiday cheer to send to veterans living at the Michigan Veteran Homes at Grand Rapids, learning formal letter-writing skills such as salutations, signatures and closing paragraphs in the process. After a peer-review process, during which students edited and helped format their classmates’ work, each student typed up their letter and then got to have fun making and decorating holiday cards. 

‘I hope they feel how all of us are thinking about them,’ said Brynnly Mann of local veterans

“I hope they feel how all of us are thinking about them,” said Brynnly Mann of the veterans. “They’ve gone through a ton of hard situations and have sacrificed a lot for everybody, and so that’s why we appreciate them.” 

In addition to spreading holiday cheer, Figurski said the eighth-graders collectively raised $768 for the Veteran Homes to help purchase gifts for veterans living there. 

“Ultimately, we want (students) to see that giving back feels good,” Figurski said. “They ask a lot of questions through this unit about serious things, and it’s nice for them to be able to think about the fact that (their) world isn’t just this one little spot — it’s this big thing that a lot of people are involved in. That kind of message is really good for them, and that’s why we talk about leaving a legacy.” 

Read more from Grandville: 
Women in manufacturing? Absolutely
Scrub up, it’s time for English

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is associate editor, reporter and copy editor. She is an award-winning journalist who got her professional start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate and proud former Chimes editor, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio

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