Middlebrook Teaches Veterans Day Through Handshakes and Heart-to-Purple Heart Meetings
Each of Wilton’s Schools marks Veterans Day in its own way, through assemblies and curriculum. The programs are always powerful teaching moments, often inviting in students’ (and sometimes teachers’) family members who have served in branches of the armed forces to participate in the schools’ programs and be honored during the school day.
At Middlebrook Middle School, social studies teacher John Priest has created another element that allows the students to experience Veterans Day in a concrete way that reinforces a Wilton connection. He brings together students and local veterans involved with the American Legion Post 86 to help tell the soldiers’ stories.
“When I started as a teacher in Wilton, I was surprised Veterans Day was a school day. When I saw the assemblies, I knew why. It was so powerful. They didn’t have a multimedia aspect–they read names and rang a bell, it was a real memorial feel. A year or two into it, I started doing these videos with the kids, putting images to soldier-related themes and music. The third or fourth year, I decided to come down to the Veterans Hall and do interviews to match up with the theme we chose for that year,” he explains.
Several students volunteered to visit the American Legion post this year and interview the veterans about their time in active duty. The experience for many of the children is the first time they’re hearing about what military life is like. It’s also a very concrete way to connect them to the community around them, and have them see an older generation in a new light.
“It’s a place they’ve driven by a thousand times, and when I say it’s where the Kick for Nick net is, ‘Oh yeah! We know the soccer balls.’ Then it’s questions about, Who is Nick? And about his family and his service. Then it’s a discussion about how that’s the American Legion Post 86 and these are local people who have served. They are all members of the town and they all have great things to share,” Priest says.
This year’s video incorporated the theme of “home” and showed clips of the interviews conducted by the students. They asked the veterans questions about how it felt to be away from home during their times in active service and what responsibilities each of the veterans had when they served.
“It’s wonderful, because we capture pieces of their experience, and what it meant to them. That’s the stuff that connects for the kids, because they talk about home, they talk about family and sacrifice. There’s a connection there, and it’s nice to connect them to Wilton,” Priest adds.
Amazing moments happened spontaneously, including this one, where Post member Don Boyle showed his purple heart to the students, something unplanned and unknown to Priest before it happened. Priest described the moment captured on video as “why I teach.”
Veterans Day Assembly
Middlebrook students commemorated Veterans Day with assemblies on Friday. Students read selections they’d written about meaningful experiences they’d learned from their own veteran relatives, and several veterans from Wilton’s American Legion Post 86 attended alongside veteran relatives of students and teachers. The video produced by Priest and his colleague, fellow social studies teacher Jennifer Kaminski, wove together some of the interview clips conducted by the students with images of Middlebrook students and teachers holding photos of their veteran relatives.
The program culminated in a receiving line, as students exited the auditorium to shake hands with each of the veterans in attendance, one-by-one thanking them for their service, sacrifice and dedication. These students literally got to touch and experience history and make the connection beyond reading about a particular battle or studying events on a timeline. For everyone, it was a way to bring the experience ‘home.’