If you ask students at Sterling Elementary School, they’ll tell you veterans are pretty cool.
The entire student body recently participated in the school’s second annual Veterans Day celebration on Nov. 8, the Friday before Veterans Day. Three service members – two Air Force reservists and one soldier from the Army – visited the school and received a warm reception from students.
“It was a lot of fun, and I think it was kind of eye opening for the kids,” said Karen Cetoute, community specialist for Sterling Elementary.
The visiting vets started by walking the school hallways, beginning with the first floor and working their way up to the fifth-grade classrooms on the second level. Students made welcoming signs and banners and gave the service members high fives as they walked past.
Cetoute said the students were very enthusiastic and eager to talk with the veterans and ask questions.
“Some asked questions like, ‘Do you carry a gun?’ One student asked, ‘Do they all go fight in the war?’” she said.
The type of response students gave the visitors varied by age, Cetoute said – the younger students were simply excited to see people in uniform, while the older ones were more inquisitive.
“The younger ones are just happy to see someone in uniform period,” Cetoute said. “For the older ones, it’s more of an eye-opening, learning experience.” She added though the older students at Sterling are still too young to decide what they want to be when they grow up, meeting the service members and seeing them in uniform might stick with some of them as they think about the future. “It may very well be a career path (for some of these students). I think it will give them a lot of inspiration.”
Cetoute said the parade was a moving experience for everyone involved, especially for the service members who visited, and she enjoyed watching their reactions as they received applause and high fives from the students.
“Some of them were crying in there, too, because they couldn’t believe the reaction from students,” she said. “They said, ‘We were glad to come and if you need us to come for anything else, let us know.’”
Following the parade, the veterans marched into the media center for a reception and then visited the auditorium to share a little about themselves with the students.
Sterling founded the annual Veterans Day celebration last year because a handful of students and faculty members have family members who serve in the armed forces – and at least three children at the school have parents who are service members. Since the inception of the Veterans Day celebration, students have had a chance to explore a war Hummer and view old and new military paraphernalia. One dad in the Army even surprised his 5-year-old daughter, who thought he was still in Iraq, by showing up at last year’s celebration – something Cetoute said was inspirational to all of the students.
“It was almost like their dad was coming home, too,” she said.
Cetoute said Sterling also plans to host a Memorial Day event in the spring, as the school has a special memorial garden outside of the cafeteria to honor fallen soldiers – particularly students’ family members who have died while serving in the armed forces. She added the school plans to continue to grow the Veterans Day celebration each year.
“I would love to see it become a bigger event … with a parade of maybe 20 soldiers,” Cetoute said. “…I hope that it teaches (students) to be respectful, to say ‘thank you’ to these men and women in uniform when they see them.”