Across the school district on Monday, November 11, students marked Veterans Day in different ways.
Head O’ Meadow Elementary School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Middle Gate Elementary School held breakfast events for visiting veterans, while Newtown High School offered a luncheon. Head O’ Meadow, Sandy Hook School, Middle Gate, and Newtown High School also held assemblies for students to learn more about Veterans Day from veterans and to honor those in attendance who have served the country. Hawley Elementary School, Reed Intermediate School, and Newtown Middle School left the choice of how to mark the day up to individual classes or clusters.
As the entire school body and veterans of the US armed forces gathered around, Head O’ Meadow school parent David Irving, US Marine Corps Reserves, assisted by his son, Matthew, raised the American flag Monday morning to start the Veterans Day celebration at that school. Head O’ Meadow music teacher Amanda Saperstein led the group in singing the national anthem, and following a Pledge of Allegiance, the crowd filed into the cafeteria where a special breakfast awaited veterans and their hosts — usually grandchildren or children of the veterans.
Parents Kristen Mattera and Dawne Kornhaus organized the morning’s events, which included an explanation of the symbolically set white table at the front of the cafeteria by Head O’ Meadow lead teacher Natalie Hammond — representing peace, purity of heart, bitter fate, tears, sorrow of captivity, the soldier’s lonely battle, the meal that will not be eaten, and hope — and remarks by Principal Barbara Gasparine.
“We come together to give thanks for the bravery, strength, and courage of our veterans,” said Ms Gasparine, as the children and veterans finished up breakfast.
Each veteran present introduced him or herself, passing the microphone from table to table. From World War II veterans who had stormed the beaches of Normandy, to Vietnam and Korean veterans, to veterans of Iraq, to Chief Petty Officer Dan Kearns, who has only recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan, veterans from every branch were represented at the Head O’ Meadow breakfast to honor those who had died for, fought for, and continued to protect the United States of America.
As the tribute to the veterans wound down, veteran Mike Giarratano, there as a guest of his grandson, Matthew Irving, picked up his guitar and led the group in singing a selection of patriotic songs.
“This is a great tribute to all veterans,” said retired Army veteran John Kopec, while yet another veteran gave thanks for the morning’s events and said that it was “good for all the kids to understand these things.”
Ms Gasparine said her school appreciated Caraluzzi’s Market and Big Y helping to sponsor the PTA event for veterans.
At Hawley Elementary School a fourth grade students shared the history of Veterans Day over the loudspeaker Monday morning, and fourth grade chorus members, along with music teacher Brian Kowalsky, led the school over the loudspeaker in singing “You’re A Grand Old Flag” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” The entire school also contributed to a bulletin board honoring veterans, and a white table was set up in the school’s lobby.
A bulletin board display and a white table was also set up near Reed Intermediate School’s main entrance by students Lil Martenson’s fifth grade classes.
Proud To Be American
During Middle Gate’s assembly on Monday, Principal Chris Geissler said he was pleased to be able to honor, celebrate, and recognize veterans at his school on Veterans Day. He also thanked event organizer fourth grade teacher Linda Baron and all those who helped make the assembly possible.
Mr Geissler also read student works that explained why the students were proud to be an American. Reasons shared included the ability to be anyone when they grew up, and because of the freedoms available to Americans.
Middle Gate music teacher Tina Jones lead the assembly through a number of songs during the event, including “America The Beautiful.”
When it was her turn to speak before the assembled students, Ms Baron shared a message she received from a veteran following a past Veterans Day assembly at the school. The note explained the veteran had shared his war story with his granddaughter thanks to attending the assembly at the school. It was the first time he had been asked to share the story, and he thanked Ms Baron for the opportunity.
Every veteran, Ms Baron said, has a story worth being told, even if no one has asked.
Guests at Middle Gate’s Veterans Day assembly included US Army First Lieutenant Marikay Satryano, Army Lieutenant James Satryano, Marines Corporal Sean Simpson, and Sergeant Andre Popow, Newtown Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 308 Commander James Rebman, Commander of the Bethel Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 935 Richard Godfrey, World War II US Navy veteran Frank Furze, Army Reserves and US Army veteran Herbert Baron, and two Middle Gate alums both serving in the US Army Reserves, Brady Miller and Michael Lapera.
Saying Thank You To The USA
Lt Marikay Satryano was the main speaker for the Middle Gate Assembly and she spoke to students about her experiences with the army.
When one student asked her why she wanted to join the army, she said, “It was my way of saying thank you to the United States of America for everything I was able to enjoy as a citizen.”
Lt Satryano described what her jobs have been — including helping school children in Iraq— and what training was like.
Sandy Hook School’s Veterans Day breakfast had roughly 60 veterans attend it and 177 guests in total. Along with attending the breakfast, the veterans also visited classrooms with students and heard students sing under the guidance of music teacher Maryrose Kristopik. Packed tables of students, veterans, and family members filled Chalk Hill Middle School’s cafeteria for the event.
“We’re here to honor the most important people in our lives,” said Principal Kathy Gombos before she introduced Selectman Will Rodgers as the main speaker for the morning event.
Mr Rodgers shared experiences from his 30 years with the Marines, and asked veterans present for the breakfast to help share memories of what food was like while in service. He also shared that Memorial Day is held to honor those who died while serving in the Armed Forces. Veterans Day, Mr Rodgers said, is held to remember those men and women, but it also recognizes veterans and servicemen who are members of the community.
After Mr Rodgers spoke, a white table ceremony was held with students surrounding a table set up at the front of the cafeteria.
All veterans that visited Sandy Hook School on Monday received Hearts of Hope as a gift.
Some Newtown Middle School students ventured with NMS social studies teacher Andrew San Angelo to the VFW Post 308 for Tuesday’s ceremony; see the separate story in this week’s Bee for coverage of the VFW’s Veterans Day Ceremony.
Veterans were also welcomed at Newtown High School for a luncheon before an assembly was held in the school’s auditorium.
Mr Rodgers spoke at the high school along with Interim Superintendent of Schools John Reed, retired US Navy Lieutenant and current NHS teacher Rich Giacin, Army First Lieutenant Christopher Taylor, and Donna Monteleone Randle, who served as a captain in the Army, Signal Corps, and is a member of the Newtown VFW Post 308.
Armed Forces Salute
The NHS Wind Ensemble performed a number of pieces during the assembly, including the “Armed Forces Salute,” and student representatives of HAWKS Honor Association read the Gettysburg Address and shared the history of Veterans Day.
“Throughout the Newtown school system today, I think there is a very honest, sincere, and heartfelt effort on the part of the school system to reach out and recognize all veterans who are able to be with us today,” said Dr Reed, who said he also visited at least one other school on Monday.
When he spoke, Mr Giacin said he did not know what to expect when he joined the Navy. He told the students to prepare for life and an unknown future by taking on challenges rather than setting a strict plan.
“You will change your mind along the way,” said Mr Giacin. “You will encounter experiences and you will change directions in your life, and I can say this because it happened to me many times. So what I ask you to do as students: Don’t try to plan for your future per se, but prepare for an unknown future by always doing the best we can, always taking on challenges, and always keep doors open.”
As the keynote speaker for the high school event, Lt Taylor marked talked about reintegrating back into society after serving in Iraq, and being a great team member.
When home he said he felt thankful for everything he had, but also felt sorry for everyone living in Iraq without the amenities familiar to Americans.
“I was happy to have all these amenities, but it was hard to celebrate knowing the place I had just come from,” said Lt Taylor.
Lt Taylor said people could say he gave seven years of his life to the country, “but I’d do it all over again, because of the life lessons that I learned.”
A slideshow of Monday’s Veterans Day events is available here.