Kids honor veterans

Third-graders from Pioneer School served dinner and entertained some 300 veterans and their families Nov. 9 as part of their annual service learning project for veterans.

Tonya Cairo, principal, initiated the project in 2002 when she was a teacher, and has since passed the tradition to other teachers after she moved into administration, she said. In former years, they focused on teaching fifth-graders about the history of wars, but in more recent years they have been teaching the third-graders and focusing on patriotism, respect and honor.

LEBANON JROTC cadets present the colors as veterans stand at attention.
LEBANON JROTC cadets present the colors as veterans stand at attention.

Students learned about the branches of the military, symbolism, flag folding and more, but they also interviewed local veterans last month.

“It shows kids a part of their community, it gets them actively engaged in meeting people, and the learning is really authentic,” Cairo said. “I think that part of it is how kids should be learning.”

Emily Tschida, 9, couldn’t remember the name of the veteran she interviewed, but she did remember he was “a really sweet guy.”

He told her it’s important for kids to know what it’s like to be in the military, but he doesn’t want them to have to go through war, she said.

“It’s awesome to honor them and tell them you’re important and we’re not just blowing you off the side, because you helped our country be safe and free, and we can do anything we want now because it’s free,” Emily said.

The dinner wraps up the learning experience for the students and allows them a chance to give back to veterans.

Several children were lined up by the door of the gym to greet and usher their honored guests to a seat.

“The girls take the boys on the elbow, and the boys take the girls on the elbow and we walk them to where they want,” said Kami Miller, 8.

After everyone’s seated, the kids prepare to bring plates of food to each guest.

“We go in the cafeteria and we wait a minute, and we all line up into our orders, like the tallest, the middle size and then smallest,” Kami explained.

Jim Ricke, a Lebanon veteran who served in the Navy from 1958 to 1963, has attended the dinner for five years now.  He believes what Cairo started with this project has been good for the kids.

“I see them on the streets two or three years later and they’ll come up and say, ‘Remember you were at my school,’” Ricke said.

Dick Gray, also a Navy veteran who served from 1951 to 1955, came for his third year at the dinner. He said he enjoys meeting different people and participating in the interviews.

“One girl here recognized me and sat at my table and talked to me,” Gray said.

During dinner, the students entertained with songs, riddles, poems and other presentations.

“The beauty of this year was it’s totally organic,” said Lisa Richard, third-grade teacher.

At previous dinners the students have given speeches, but this year they decided to do something a little different, she said. The children got to decide what they wanted to do and then auditioned for the opportunity.

Sami Lovely, 8, performed a solo rendition of “God Bless America,” but couldn’t finish the song because she started to cry. She returned to the stage later to give it another try, and when the tears prevented her from completing the song again, a voice from one of the dinner tables picked up where she left off and ushered forth the entire room into completing the song for her.

“This was a breakthrough for her because she couldn’t even get on the stage at beginning of the year,” Richard said. “Wasn’t that cool how the whole place sang for her? That was so cool!”

Stacy Ryan, a teacher from Salem, accompanied her grandfather, Paul Franklin, who served in the Army from 1943 to 1945. Franklin is from Corvallis and now resides at the Edward C. Allworth Veterans Home, next door to the school.

“I think it’s amazing,” Ryan said.

“I see what these kids are doing as third-graders and I’m very impressed. They are so well-behaved and polite, and so appreciative to the veterans. My grandpa got ushered in, he got shown to his seat, several kids have said ‘thank you for coming,’ ‘thank you for your service.’ They’re being so polite and mature.”