The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

August 21, 2013

Students' call to duty

Veterans to lend hand with school's new initiative

BY CAROL ROEHM croehm@dancomnews.com
The Commercial-News

---- — School doesn’t officially start in District 118 until Monday, but earlier this week Meade Park Elementary School Principal Mendy Spesard said she can hardly wait for the children to return to the east side school.

“I can’t wait for this school year to start,” she said.

When it does, Spesard has a surprise for the students that she has been working on since February.

Students will be greeted on Monday by a large American flag on a central hallway bulletin board that Spesard decorated by hand. Within the American flag are the logos for the five military branches.

The patriotic theme is a nod to the new military-inspired initiative for the school’s kindergartners through fifth-graders that will launch this school year. The initiative will see the school’s staff wearing either pink camouflage or traditional green camouflage shirts that read “Meade Park has GRIT,” an acronym that will remind the students to be genuine, resourceful, innovative and tenacious.

In keeping with the theme, a new banner has been ordered for the front of the school on Kansas Street that will read “Meade Park: Just Off the Highway of Heroes and Hope.”

Spesard said she borrowed the motto for the banner from Mayor Scott Eisenhauer’s presentation almost two weeks ago at the grand opening of the new McDonald’s at Main Street and Bowman Avenue at which he dubbed the restaurant’s flag garden and city entryway as the “Highway of Heroes and Hope.”

The motto is fitting since the school, which borders the Danville National Cemetery, has had a longstanding relationship with the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System.

“Our first-graders spend time visiting the veterans every Halloween with their costumes, and our fifth-graders collect the flags from the gravestones after Memorial Day,” she said.

“When they have services (at the National Cemetery), the VA will call us in advance so we can keep the children indoors,” Spesard said, explaining that the children might be startled by the gun salutes if they were outside.

“Our students understand what the cemetery is, but it is time to teach them what those people did for us as American citizens,” she said. “I believe it is time to explore the history of these veterans.

“We take for granted the things that deserve our gratitude,” she added, paraphrasing a quote from writer Cynthia Ozick.

While Spesard was developing the initiative, she said she was contacted by a few veterans who inquired about volunteering at the school and working with individual students or talking to entire classes.

“The veterans want to read to the kids and talk to them about values,” she said. “I would like to take some of our students over to the VA to read with the veterans and present book reports and some of the material they are learning in class.

“We owe these men and women our time and respect. It is time to give back,” she said.

The initiative will divide Meade Park’s classes into the five military branches: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy and Marines. Each branch will be represented by classes from each grade level. The branches then will compete weekly for attendance, behavior, citizenship and academic recognition.

“We will celebrate our successes during our family time every Monday at 7:50 a.m.,” Spesard said.

The new initiative also will help students to move beyond academics and develop values.

“We know that academics are extremely important, but intelligence isn’t the only thing needed to be successful in life,” Spesard said. “We want to empower young people who can effectively embrace concepts like critical thinking, student collaboration, data collection and personal goal setting.

“We have extremely intelligent students, so we want to cultivate that drive,” she said.

In conjunction with academics, the new military-inspired initiative will instill honor, responsibility, discipline, teamwork, integrity and good moral character.

The initiative’s keystones are:

n Duty — Fulfill obligations. Doing one’s duty means more than carrying out assigned tasks. Duty means being able to accomplish tasks and responsibilities as part of a team.

n Respect — Treat people as they should be treated. Respect is what allows one to appreciate the best in other people. Self-respect is a vital ingredient, which results from knowing a best effort has been put forth.

n Service — Doing one’s duty loyally without thought of recognition or gain.

n Honor — Carrying out, acting and living the values of respect, duty, loyalty, service, integrity and personal courage in everything one does.

n Integrity — Doing what’s right, legally and morally. It is a quality that is developed by adhering to moral principles. It requires doing and saying nothing that deceives others. As one’s integrity grows, so does the trust others place in that individual.

“We’ve seen our suspension rate drop because they know what it means to be safe, be respectful and be responsible,” Spesard said. “It is time to dig deeper into our value system and educate students about being productive citizens. I think they’re ready.”