Patriotism gets 533 hands

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Even though most of the students at Orchard Elementary School in Jackson are too young to fully understand what is happening in New York and Washington D.C., they have shown their teachers they understand what it means to be an American.

Hallways are lined with students' papers completing the sentence, "I'm proud to be an American because...." In the school's foyer, 483 red-and- white construction paper hands with students' names join 50 white stars with the faculty's names. They combine to make a giant American flag.

When attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon took place last week, teachers at the school didn't talk about it with their students, but chose to allow the parents to explain the situation at home.

"Most of the students were concerned and upset when they returned to school Wednesday," teacher Ami Walton said. "And they wanted to be a part of something meaningful."

That is when Walton decided to meet with teachers Lisa Goodwin and Shauna Criddle to come up with an idea to help the students feel like they were a part of national events.

During a brainstorming session Thursday afternoon, the teachers came up with an idea to make a "hand-made flag."

"We wanted to find a way to show our pride in our nation," Goodwin said. "The students know what the American symbols mean so we chose to form the flag."

Third grader Stetson Sander said he feels neat when he sees his hand in the flag. It makes him feel like he is a part of everything that is happening.

Morale boost

Criddle said in light of everything that has happened, pulling together to work on the flag has been a big morale booster for the school.

Every morning before school starts the children stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance. Before the tragedy last week, she said, the students would stand up and go through the motions, repeating the pledge, but without feeling. Now, she said, they stand up straight and poised and say the allegiance in a loud, firm tone with pride and honor.

She said the students have also related what it means for them to be Americans in words.

Hundreds of papers are strung along the hallways with the reasons why the children are proud to be American written on them.

One child wrote that she was proud because she someday could choose her house, her car, her boyfriend and her children's names. Another wrote that he was proud because "America has fair laws to treat people equally and the government doesn't tell us what to do."

Other young children in the area have been learning lessons in patriotism over the past week, too. Amy Surman's third grade students at Franklin Elementary School in Cape Girardeau are making flags and writing notes of sympathy to send to New York and Washington D.C.

Rhonda Dunham, Franklin Elementary School principal, said she isn't certain what organization they are going to send the letters to yet, but when the letters are finished they will decide on a group. In the meantime, the faculty are going to get together Thursday to decide on a school-wide patriotism project.

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