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Newtown Public Schools Honor Veterans

Published: November 14, 2016

Veterans were invited and honored at ceremonies and events across the school district on Friday, November 11, for Veterans Day. Schools hosted breakfasts, some students presented handmade gifts to the visitors, and at one school veterans received high fives and thank yous in two schoolwide Walks of Honor.

Head O’ Meadow Elementary School spent the morning honoring servicemen and woman who have or are currently in the United States Armed Forces.

Students and faculty joined veterans for a flag-raising ceremony outside the main entrance of the school. Airman First Class Donald Gioffre raised the American flag during the ceremony. He is the grandfather of student Kenna Gioffre.

Newtown High School student Quinlan Hart, who is a Head O’ Meadow alumnus, performed “Taps.” The ceremony included The Pledge of Allegiance, a moment of silence, and singing “America the Beautiful.” Afterward, veterans and guests were escorted to the cafeteria by their student sponsors for an Honorary Breakfast.

School Principal Barbara Gasparine and Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, spoke to the crowd, and then student sponsors proudly introduced their guest veterans.

At Sandy Hook Elementary School, music teacher Maryrose Kristopik welcomed all in attendance to the school’s flag-raising ceremony and breakfast. US Marine Staff Sergeant Dustin Gill, Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard Second Lieutenant Ken Fay, and US Marine Gunnery Sergeant Jason Reel worked together to raise the flag just outside the school’s main entrance.

Ms Kristopik said the school was pleased to “have all of you here for our Veterans Day festivities.” Once inside, students ate breakfast with veterans, like former US Air Force Military Policeman John Segretto who ate breakfast with his family members, including Sandy Hook School granddaughters Charlotte and Annabelle Foley.

Roughly ten school PTA volunteers worked on a committee to oversee the breakfast, and Tracy Hoekenga chaired the committee. After breakfast a ceremony was conducted, which included guest speaker Alex Plitsas — who served for eight years with US Army special operations forces, was an Iraq combat veteran, a Bronze Star Medal recipient, an Afghanistan civilian intelligence officer, and served as the chief of sensitive activities for the Secretary of Defense — speaking about service. Mr Plitsas said, before the presentation, he wanted to speak to the students to challenge them to go home and serve their community, even at a young age.

Sandy Hook School second grade students in Alison Stevenson’s class created and presented paper poppies to the visiting veterans, and third grade students sang patriotic songs, including a two-part rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” under the direction of Ms Kristopik.

Breakfasts And A Walk Of Honor

Hawley Elementary School also held a breakfast for invited veterans and current members of the military. An assembly with the full school was held following the breakfast.

PTA President Kristen Bonacci oversaw the breakfast with volunteers and Lead Teacher Keri Snowden oversaw the assembly, which included a White Table Ceremony, students reading essays and poems they had written, and students singing songs.

Two assemblies were held at Middle Gate Elementary Schools for Veterans Day. For the second assembly, fourth grade teacher Linda Baron welcomed all in attendance before the assembly sang “America The Beautiful.” Students then presented the history and information about each branch in the military.

Later, Ms Baron shared a memory she had from a few years ago. One day while walking through the school building, she noticed a man reading a display. She heard him say, “It’s about time someone recognized us.” When she took a closer look she learned the man had been reading a paper honoring veterans of the Vietnam War.

Ms Baron said if that man was listening in the audience on Friday she wanted him to know “You are noticed. We recognize your service and your sacrifice.” She said the same goes for all servicemen and women.

Michael Talluto, who has served with the US Naval Reserve, was the guest speaker for the day. He told the students about how he was discouraged when his initial application to the US Naval Academy was declined due to his eyesight. That did not stop him, though, as he later went to study how to apply for the Navy at the library.

Mr Talluto said he hopes when the students look at the American flag they will think of all the brave men and women who have served the country and are serving now to protect the freedoms of those at home. He also told the students to, whenever they see a veteran, go up to them, with permission from parents, and say, “Thank you for your service to our country and the sacrifices you made for me.”

Students later called up visiting veterans they had invited to the school for the day, to be honored.

Ms Baron’s fourth grade class also sang, “Proud of Our Veterans.”

“With courage, strength, and sacrifice you saw our country through. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” the students sang.

A breakfast was also offered at Middle Gate for veterans. The breakfast was catered by the Kern family.

After both assemblies, students lined the hallways of the school for a Walk of Honor. Veterans walked through the hallways and shook hands, were greeted with high fives, and heard many thank yous from the students along the walk.

RIS, NMS, And NHS Ceremonies

At Reed Intermediate School the school PTA hosted a “Veterans Lounge” with food and drinks available for the visiting guests. An assembly was also held in the school’s cafetorium, which was overseen by a committee led by Assistant Principal Jill Beaudry. Committee members were Bob Gaines, Amanda Eide, Angela Choniski, Michelle Ginand, Jess O’Connell, Petrice DiVanno, Mandy Poseno, and Pia Ledina, with assistance from Bob Nolte, Phil Beierle, Sabrina Watson, and Tim McGuire.

During the assembly, according to Ms Ledina, sixth grade students read descriptions about each branch of service in the military. A video, created by Ms Ledina, was also shared. It offered students’ interviews, personal photos, and research on related topics. It also had students Katie Murphy and Nella Walsh interview Reed Head Custodian Mark Pirozzoli, and students Dan Godino and Ryan Ward interview Night Custodian Supervisor Darren Pierre about their time in the Army and Navy, respectively.

Banners created by students were also on display at the school and a bulletin board was set up to honor the event and local veterans, like Mr Pierre and Mr Pirozzoli. A White Table was also set up in the school’s lobby.

“Good morning and a warm welcome to our honored guests,” said Newtown Middle School Principal Thomas Einhorn to one of multiple assemblies at his school on Veterans Day. Honored guests were seated in the school’s gymnasium for the assembly, with students filling bleachers.

Mr Einhorn thanked the veterans for their dedicated and loyal service to the country. Veterans Day, he said, is a day to let veterans know their sacrifices are deeply appreciated.

Student chorus members sang the national anthem under the guidance of teacher Jonathan Pope, and chorus and orchestra members performed “God Bless America” together. The orchestra was guided by Keith Hedin.

“We are truly indebted,” said Mr Einhorn to the veterans, “and we hope, even in a small way, our school was able to convey our thanks.”

Breakfast was also served for veterans in the school’s cafeteria. The assembly and accompanying breakfast, according to Mr Einhorn, was organized by the school’s social studies department.

Red, white, and blue tablecloths decorated the cafetorium at Newtown High School, where veterans were invited for a brunch with National Honor Society students and a presentation. School psychologist Jennifer Hoag and social worker Suzanne Tyler oversaw the event.

The NHS Chamber Choir, Singers, and Wind Ensemble performed songs for the event, under the direction of NHS Choral Director Jane Matson and Director of Bands Kurt Eckhardt, respectively.

NHS Principal Lorrie Rodrigue, Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, Assistant Superintendent Jean Evans Davila, and First Selectman Pat Llodra all spoke at the event.

Dr Rodrigue said the decision to hold school on Veterans Day allows students to collectively honor those who have made personal sacrifices for the health, safety, and security of all Americans.

Mrs Llodra thanked all for joining the event at the high school. She said there were many events in town held to honor the veterans, with each school holding events, VFW Post 308 hosting a ceremony, Masonicare at Newtown holding an event, and the NHS football team honoring veterans at its night game later that day.

“Thank you veterans, here and everywhere. We owe you a debt of gratitude and support,” said Mrs Llodra.

When Dr Erardi spoke, he highlighted the partnership between the school and the veterans, especially for the visitors taking the time to visit with the students. He said he wanted the veterans to know “how important you are to Newtown schools, to Newtown, Connecticut, to the state of Connecticut, and this country.”

Later Ms Davila said, “I want to remind us all that our veterans and their families are deserving of our gratitude, not only on a designated day for commemorations, such as today. We must choose to live in a way that honors and is deserving of the sacrifice… to allow us all to enjoy our many freedoms as Americans. So we thank you all.”

More photos from the day will accompany this story in the November 18 print edition of The Newtown Bee.

Bee reporter Alissa Silber contributed to this story.

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