By Stacey Bomser
For the past five years, students in Annejeanette Washington’s fifth grade class at Manatee Bay Elementary have recognized Veterans Day by writing letters and making cards for local veterans, as well as family members who have served or are actively serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. This year Mr. Allison’s fifth grade class and Mrs. Megee’s fourth grade class joined the endeavor.
“It is important for students to understand the sacrifices made by the men and women who served in our military and those who currently serve,” explains Ms. Washington.
She notes that this project is personal for her and the Manatee Bay community. “I am the product of five United States veterans. At Manatee Bay, we have many students whose parents or loved ones are veterans. And finally, our Latinas in Action coordinator, Sgt. Major Jorge Cruz, is a veteran and does a lot of activities within the Weston schools.”
To prepare for this project, Ms. Washington taught students the history of Veterans Day. Students used History Channel resources to research facts about the holiday and explore what they could do in their community to thank local veterans. Their efforts were part of History Channel’s #ThankaVet program.
Students also read a Scholastic News article about how military families are affected when their loved ones are called to serve their country. The article included letter stems so that students could draft their own letters to either local veterans at the VA hospital or to family members.
Ms. Washington says one student wrote to his mother, an Air Force veteran, “Mom, I will never thank you enough for what you went through and gave up for our freedom.” Another student wrote to a family member how much she loves and misses him and thanked him for his service to our country.
That relative wrote a touching letter back. “When I gave her the letter, she read it and squeezed it tight and cried,” shared Ms. Washington. “All who were standing there could not help but cry as her love for her relative was evident.”
Ms. Washington says all who received the letters and cards were filled with emotion and gratitude. “The veterans at the VA Clinic and VA Hospital were in tears, smiling, and felt greatly appreciated, including a 95-year-old World War II Veteran who greeted us at the Sunrise VA Clinic with a warm hug.”
She noted that her fiancé and his colleagues at the Social Security Administration look forward to receiving the students’ letters each year. “They proudly display their letters and cards at their office.”
In addition to writing letters, Ms. Washington’s students also recorded messages for veterans using FlipGrid, a video discussion platform for educators.