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Schools Celebrate Veterans Day
By Eliza Hallabeck
With Veterans Day falling on a Sunday this year, some of Newtown’s schools held events on Friday, November 9, and other schools held events on Monday, November 12, to mark the day.
“This is one of the days we look forward to each year,” said Head O’ Meadow Principal Barbara Gasparine on Friday, when veterans were invited as guests of students to the school.
A flag-raising ceremony was held outside the school to begin the day, with Head O’ Meadow custodian Jose Lebron, who served with the United States Army Police in Germany, overseeing the process with assistance from physical education teacher Steve “Coach” Dreger.
After the flag-raising ceremony, Ms Gasparine announced over a loudspeaker, for the entire student body and visitors to hear, “I would like to invite all of our veterans and guests to our cafeteria for our breakfast.”
Inside the school’s cafetorium, a long table was set up with a full menu of breakfast options for veterans and students.
Noting Veterans Day by inviting veterans to the school, said Ms Gasparine, is special to both the students and the staff.
During a brief announcement for the breakfast, Ms Gasparine said, “On Veterans Day we come together to thank you veterans and service people for your service to our country.”
As part of the breakfast, students in Sara Washiko’s class crafted red flowers to hand out to veterans as a gift.
Veterans and servicemen visited Middle Gate Elementary School on Friday also. Master Sergeant Eric Mroz, from Palisades Park, N.J., now stationed in Danbury with the 411th Civil Affairs Battalion, was the visiting speaker for Middle Gate’s two assemblies on Friday. MSgt Mroz also visited classrooms and spoke to students during his visit. MSgt Mroz is a Veteran of Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom. He has 22 years of service with 18 on active duty.
MSgt Mroz explained why students hear people talk about freedom when celebrating Veterans Day: Members of the armed forces, he said, take an oath to support and defend the constitution against threats both foreign and domestic.
MSgt Mroz implored the Middle Gate students to enjoy their freedom, because in some countries freedom is not limitless, like in the United States.
“Thank you for having me,” said MSgt Mroz. “It is truly an honor to serve you, and God bless America.”
Fourth grade teacher Linda Baron, who Middle Gate Principal Chris Geissler called the “mastermind” behind setting up the Friday event, also spoke during the assembly.
“What drives brave men and women to do what they do?” asked Ms Baron. “Belief. Belief in a set of ideals, greater than themselves and the willingness to stand up for those ideals, even knowing that they may be put in harm’s way.”
Year after year, Ms Baron said, veterans and servicemen and women have put themselves in harm’s way.
“Their results, their efforts, have provided us a better life, the life we live today,” said Ms Baron.
A poem written by Ms Baron was also put to a song and performed by her fourth grade student Mellissa Travali. Audio from Mellissa’s performance is available at www.newtownbee.com.
Students who invited veterans and servicemen and women to Middle Gate on Friday also recognized their visitors before the assembly.
At Sandy Hook Elementary School students invited veterans and servicemen to visit the school for a breakfast on Monday, November 12.
Throughout the school’s cafeteria Monday morning, students sat with their esteemed guests to eat and talk, like Chase Kowalski who sat with his “Pop Pop” Anthony Kowalski and Aidan and Ellie Pepko who sat with their great-uncle Chip Pudims.
After the Sandy Hook School breakfast, the guests also visited classrooms with the students. Students also presented poppies to the visitors, and teacher Kate Anderheggen’s fourth grade students sang patriotic songs under the guidance of music teacher Maryrose Kristopik.
At Newtown High School a luncheon for veterans was held before an assembly was held in the school’s auditorium.
One of the first people to speak at the high school’s assembly was First Selectman Pat Llodra.
“To those veterans gathered here, I thank you for the freedoms I enjoy,” said Mrs Llodra. “We are a better country and a better world because of you. I thank you sincerely.”
Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson spoke next, noting memories of her father and later her husband, who both served as Navy pilots. Dr Robinson said she has seen bravery and commitment firsthand, and also noted the impact service with the armed forces has on those who wait for loved ones to return.
“For those currently serving, we wish them, all of them, a safe return,” said Dr Robinson.
NHS science teacher Darryl Nicholson, who served with the Navy, also spoke during the event.
“Many people have asked me why I joined the military,” said Mr Nicholson.
Noting he was 32 years old when he joined, Mr Nicholson said the events of September 11, 2001, eventually led him to joining the Navy two years later. He desired greater things, he said, and he wanted to be part of greater things.
Mr Nicholson said he spent eight years serving the country, and he would not change a thing. He hopes his time has made him a better person and a better teacher.
The keynote speaker for the high school’s assembly was David Rodriguez, a staff sergeant with the Army National Guard.
Sgt Rodriguez said it was an honor to be at Newtown High School, and explained that he joined the Connecticut National Guard when he was a senior in high school.
“Deployments, they’re tough,” said Sgt Rodriguez, noting they are harder on his family than on him. “They suffer, more than I do. I missed births.”
Sgt Rodriguez has three children he calls his “war trophies,” due to their births all being close to deployments, he said.
“Because of their sacrifice, I am able to do what I do,” said Sgt Rodriguez.
He asked everyone in the auditorium with family members in the armed services to stand up.
“You guys pay the ultimate sacrifice,” said Sgt Rodriguez.
No one comes back the same from war, said Sgt Rodriguez, adding later that not all injuries are physical.
“Veterans Day to me is a day of remembrance,” Sgt Rodriguez said, “of those who have passed, those who have served, and those who are serving today.”
Sgt Rodriguez asked the high school students to not take their freedoms for granted, and to remember what the American flag stands for.
During the assembly the NHS Wind Ensemble performed a number of songs, including the Armed Forces Salute, during which veterans were asked to stand when they heard their branch’s song. Audio of the NHS Wind Ensemble performing the Armed Forces Salute is available at www.newtownbee.com.