The hum of conversation filled the Greenfield school cafeteria on Thursday as middle schoolers were joined by their invited lunch guests – veterans.
As a way to honor those who have served the country, this year students invited veterans to join them for lunch. About 100 veterans were expected to attend and they were treated to a special menu – chicken and noodles and apple pie.
Greenfield Middle School has, in one way or another, for at least 15 years honored veterans annually around Veterans Day, according to teacher Lorie Bukowski.
On Thursday throughout the lunch periods of the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders thank you cards made by the students in the Before and After School Care (BASC) program were handed out to the veterans. Kindergarteners passed the cards out with the assistance of an older student, who held each little one’s hand as they made their way through the crowd to the veterans seated at tables of students throughout the cafeteria.
Some veterans were in full uniform, others wore hats and jackets bearing their place of service and branch of military service.
All around the cafeteria were decorations crafted by student hands out of red, white and blue construction paper and fashioned into draped chains, stars and flags bearing the word “freedom.”
Looking on as the students and veterans shared lunch and conversation was Greenfield VFW Post Commander Mike Erskine. He said he thought it was important for the students to have the interaction with those who have served and to understand the history of what that service means for the country.
Retired teacher Janet Climer, who initiated the Veterans Day tradition “many years ago” when she was at Buckskin Elementary, said that first year the students scribed the names of veterans on stars, which were then put together in the shape of a large flag. Climer assisted a student in greeting all the guests on Thursday.
Leading up to Veterans Day, Bukowski said the teachers always discuss with the students what the day means. She noted that the students “have responded so maturely.”
Some students were decked out in red, white and blue, as were the teachers. There were individual students, too, ones whose social interaction is somewhat limited due to their varying disabilities, that offered to do what they could like carry trays for veterans and just shaking the hand of a veteran, Bukowski said.
She also remarked at the level of engagement from all the students and their creativity in honoring the veterans.
“These kids are wonderful. They have been so respectful,” Bukowski said.
Along the hallways of the middle school are photos of veterans and stars made of red, white and blue, each bearing the name of a veteran. One star of blue placed on a student’s locker said “Grandpa” and gave his branch of service.
Each year, set up just outside the middle school office, is the “white table,” a tradition that dates back to the Vietnam war, according to a description laying on the table. It is meant to honor service members held as a prisoner of war or missing in action. The table and its contents, even the empty chair, symbolize the soldiers’ experience and those who wait at home for their loved one’s return.
In honoring the veterans each year and engaging the students in the process, Bukowski said, the experience was not just about education and history, but the social part, too.
“It’s life and it’s respect,” she said.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.