By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
---- — PLATTSBURGH — This Valentine’s Day, students at Oak Street Elementary School hope to remind some of America’s military veterans just how much their service is appreciated.
“I hope they feel that we still remember them and we don’t just think of them on all the days that you’re supposed to think of them … we think of them as heroes,” said Brianna Warren, a student in Peggy Eaglefeather’s fifth-grade class.
Brianna and her classmates, as well as students in Jason Nisoff and Sarah McCarty’s fifth grades, recently put their sentiments into words for those who have served into words, writing letters to veterans hospitalized at Canandaigua Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Those letters, along with valentine cards that were handcrafted by the students, were mailed to veterans at the hospital just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Not knowing the names of the individuals who would receive their messages, many students began their letters: “Dear hero.”
“There are a lot of superheros, like Green Lantern, Batman and Superman, but there seems to be one left out — you,” wrote Mason LeClarec in his missive.
Classmate Avery Durgan thanked the future recipient of her letter for service to the country.
“You saved our lives,” Avery wrote. “Your sacrifice makes me proud to be an American.”
Kiera Lacombe used her letter as an opportunity to remind a veteran of his or her accomplishments.
“You have the courage and bravery to stand up for the rights of people you don’t even know,” she wrote. “You would not leave a man behind no matter what you were going up against. You did what was right. We are lucky to have people like you.”
CARRIED IDEA OVER
Nisoff was inspired to engage his students in the project, known as Valentines for Vets, two years ago, after transferring to Oak Street School from Stafford Middle School, where sixth-grade teacher Nancy Strack’s students annually create valentines for patients at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Albany.
Last year, his was the only class at Oak Street School to participate in the project; however, this year, all three fifth-grade classes joined in.
INSPIRED BY VIDEOS
Before writing the letters, students in Eaglefeather and Nisoff’s classes watched videos about veterans, including one with a slideshow of photos and paintings depicting soldiers from several of the wars America has fought in.
Nisoff said the videos not only helped students generate ideas for their cards and letters but also seemed to tug at their heartstrings.
“We had a lot of tears shed,” he said.
Mackenzie Rascoe was one of several children moved by the slideshow.
“It kind of made me, like, emotional,” she said.
And Kiera noted that watching the videos gave her a new appreciation for her own life.
“I cried because it made me realize, like, how much I have and that I should cherish it,” she said.
As for the cards and letters, students said they hoped they would have a positive impact on the recipients.
“We did this to make the veterans be happy and to have, like, a good day, so they’re not all sad,” said Alexander Tuller.
In addition, Louisa Mercier, a student in McCarty’s class, said she hoped her message would remind a veteran that he or she still matters.
“I would like them to feel important, like they’re still needed,” she said.
It’s important to show respect for veterans, according to Phoebe Duprey, because “they work so hard for freedom.”
The Canandaigua VA Medical Center was chosen as the destination for the children’s messages due to a personal connection the school has with a member of the hospital’s staff.
Dr. Danielle Waldron, a doctor of physical therapy in the Medical Center’s Inpatient Physical Therapy Department, is the daughter of Bonnie Waldron, the principal’s secretary at Oak Street Elementary.
Danielle told the Press-Republican in an email how the veterans at her hospital love to receive the valentines and enjoy the creativity the students put into them.
“They are touched by their heartfelt wishes expressed in the letters that accompany them,” Danielle said. “It is great to see that the students are doing something to give back to those who have fought for our country’s freedom.”
Along with making a difference in the lives of the hospital’s patients, the project has brought new awareness of veterans to fifth-graders at Oak Street School.
“I learned how hard it must be to become a veteran and go over the seas,” said Gareth Mansfield.
“I feel like I know a lot more about veterans, like some of them were really young,” added Tyrese Simard-Dandrow.
And Teagan Benjamin noted the sense of pride she now feels toward those who have served.
“I’m pretty proud of them for not being a scaredy cat and actually going to war and fighting for our freedom,” Teagan said.
Email Ashleigh Livingston: firstname.lastname@example.org