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Lessons from teachers in uniform

Veterans Day celebrated in Routt County classrooms

Christine Metz

— Pictures of veterans of World War I and World War II, of the Korean War and Vietnam War, of Operation Desert Storm and even the most recent war Operation Enduring Freedom hang on a bulletin board of Strawberry Park Elementary School.

Some of the veterans died serving their country, others were awarded the silver star, purple heart or bronze star, and some survived now famous events like the Battle of Midway and the attack on Pearl Harbor. All the veterans are grandfathers, great-grandfathers, uncles, and even a great-grandmother of students at the school.

The bulletin board honoring the veterans of relatives in Strawberry Park is just one of the many ways the school is honoring Veterans Day this year.

Strawberry Park parent, Marci Valincenti, said in the aftermath of Sept. 11 she wanted to do something to honor the veterans.

“Sept. 11 opened our eyes as far as how vulnerable we can be and I think the people who are there to defend our country they should be respected and honored for that. Some of them paid the highest price their lives to defend our country,” Valincenti said.

As part of the Veterans Day celebration, the students have decorated T-shirts and helped bring in pictures for the bulletin board. On Monday they will build a 500-cupcake American flag and hold an assembly where veterans will speak. Valincenti said there would also be a video showing the flags flown in Steamboat since Sept. 11.

The importance of the American flag is one of the major themes for the school and something 28-year Marine Corps veteran Michael Condie plans to talk about when he speaks at the school Monday. He said he will tell the students about the symbolism in the red, white and blue and the importance of the stars and stripes.

But, one thing the Gulf War veteran will not talk about is the horrors of war.

“I plan to talk about the flag and patriotism, I do not plan to talk about war,” Condie said. “It’s not important. What is important is that we have a flag. That means something.”

“There’s lots to talk about why we exist, why we wear those uniforms and why patriotism is important to Steamboat Springs, Routt County and Colorado and what they can do as young people,” he said.

Strawberry Park Elementary students are not the only ones who will have the chance to learn about Veterans Day from the most knowledgeable teachers on the subject the veterans. For the seventh year in a row, Hayden Middle School will have veterans share lunch with their students.

It’s a chance, Middle School Principal Colleen Poole said, for students to visit with veterans and ask them questions. The school also has an assembly where veterans talk about their war experience, read poems about soldiers and remember the veterans that have died.

“What we hope is they will walk away understanding the soldiers and veterans that allow us to have a free country,” Poole said.

Poole said veterans are a great way for students to learn about the history and sacrifices the country has made for freedom.

“They are living memorials of what they have been through. For kids to see them and interact, that first-hand experience, to recognize people just like them did go into combat and fought for the freedoms our country has,” Poole said.

Mike Flanders is one of the 30 veterans who has shared his experience with the students for the past five years. When he visits the school, he tells students about his experience in the Vietnam War and his adventures flying over most of the world. He said students are interested in hearing about the places he has been like most of Europe, South America and Southeast Asia.

Talking to the students, Flanders said, gives him a chance to share his perspective of other countries and tell students how lucky Americans are. But, most of all, the speeches, poems and stories the veterans tell are an attempt to build patriotism, he said.

“In the past few years, we’ve lost a bit of patriotism and lost the respect for our country and for our flag. Anytime that I can help instill pride in the country and a little bit of patriotism and the idea that freedom is not free, I think that is a good thing,” he said.

To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com


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