Friday, June 15, 2018

Students learn compassion and respect through Heart of Courage Project by Lorraine Glowczak

Kelsey Theberge (center) stands with her grandfather veteran Larry Theberge (right) and father Sean Theberge. Also pictured is the silhouette she made of her grandfather 
The sixth grades students at Windham Middle School (WMS) who are from Ms. Hopkins’ and Ms. Stokes’ team, celebrated an evening of gratitude and celebration with a presentation of their Heart of Courage - Veteran Project Base Learning (PBL) Program. The festivities occurred on Monday, June 11 at 5 p.m. at the Windham Veterans Center; beginning with an Honor Guard ceremony and the National Anthem, sung by sixth-grader, Caitlin Miles.’s celebration was an accumulation of educational discovery that began in early spring. The project was kicked off with an opening event with the ROTC cadets led by Sergeant Wirtz.  The event included a brief history of the military, students participating in practice drills, trying on military gear, and using portable military medic cots.

The sixth graders had been working closely with local veterans, interviewing them as part of their PBL project; which was a student-centered mode of educational discovery with focus on subjects in the humanities, math, English language arts, science and data analysis.

The festivities included a spaghetti dinner followed by presentations by the students. After the student speeches, guests had an opportunity to talk to the pupils as they stood by hand-made silhouettes of the veterans they interviewed, to discuss what the students had learned from veterans.

In addition to interviews, the students researched the history of U.S. conflicts, participated in activities with the high school ROTC, placed flags at cemeteries, listened to presenters and visited the Maine Military Museum.  The students also cleaned headstones and flat stones at the Augusta Cemetery.

Laurent “Larry” Theberge, a Vietnam, Dessert Shield and Dessert Storm Veteran, was one of the local individuals interviewed by the sixth-grade class. Theberge’s granddaughter, Kelsey, is one of those sixth-grade students and he felt honored to participate in his first interview. “I have discussed my experiences with others, but I’ve never been interviewed before,” Theberge stated. “Most people don’t know what you experience in war. It’s not fun. It’s good to let people know what happens in war and how it can change you.”

As for Theberge’s granddaughter Kelsey, the project created a few realizations that may not have occurred in a traditional learning mode. “It [this project] has made me realize just how important it is to respect veterans and why,” Kelsey said. “By talking to the veterans, I realized just how much they went through and it has made me go deeper into this subject.”

Logan Forbes (left) with Willie Goodman
Another student, Logan Forbes, had the opportunity to interview Willie Goodman, who entered the service in 1963 and is a Persian Gulf Veteran. “This was not as easy as you think,” began Forbes. “It was very difficult to capture the veteran’s story and put it into one writing assignment. Also, when we visited the cemeteries and we washed the stones, it was much more difficult than anyone would think. You just don’t wipe over the stone – you have to scrub it. We were told to say ‘thank you’ at each veteran’s gravestone, but I ended up talking to them all. So, I learned a lot about respect, too.”

One of the guiding questions for the interviews included, “How do we show gratitude to those in our community who have served?” Goodman stated that vets do not expect to be treated differently. “It’s not that we ask to receive it [respect], or even expect it, but when we are honored in some way it is nice to know that people care.”

Students took a lot of pride and ownership in this project. “During interviews many students were sensitive to the experiences and emotions of the veterans, making sure not to bring up uncomfortable memories,” Stokes explained. “During the flag placing at local cemeteries, students worked hard to make sure the grounds and headstones were neat and beautiful. In Augusta, students took their time, scrubbing and cleaning the stones, often saying, ‘I need to get this cleaner.’ Students took care and loved cleaning each and every one of the stones and memorial markers. As family members approached headstones to place flowers, students went up to family members, offered assistance and asked to help clean the stones. Many students engaged in conversation with family members about their deceased loved ones.”

As for what lessons the students learned from this project, Stokes explained it is difficult to narrow it down to just one thing. “Both Mrs. Hopkins and I feel that if we were to narrow it down, students have grown significantly in regards to compassion towards others, respect for those that have served (and still do) and our responsibility to give back to veterans.” this spring, Post VFW applied for a $1000 grant to help support the PBL project and received that grant. The grant money paid for all busing to field trips and reading books connected to the wars.

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