Patrick Seley worked quietly in the brisk morning air, hunched over a small section of the concrete paving in front of the Forest Park Middle School. Gripping bulky pieces of multicolored chalk, Seley, a sixth-grade student, thoughtfully drew a large purple cross outlined first in white and then in red.
“I feel really bad for them, that’s why I drew the cross,” Seley said.
As part of the school’s Veterans Day observances more than 120 sixth-graders were each given the name of a soldier whose family or friends live in the village. Their charge was to write that soldier’s name on the foyer, giving passersby a colorful and vivid link to those who stand in harm’s way.
Principal Karen Bukowski rotates her students annually through a series of activities and ceremonies that help students acknowledge the nation’s heroes on Nov. 11. Last year a school-wide assembly was held during which students heard from local veterans, including Bukowski’s father. This year, while the sixth-graders drew attention to those veterans again, other classes worked on art projects, watched documentaries on military conflicts and even wrote letters to send along with care packages to soldiers stationed overseas.
“Unfortunately, with a lot of these kids we’ve been in Iraq for half their lives,” Bukowski said. “It’s sad that it’s commonplace.”
Teacher Richard Hearn said the idea for writing the names of local veterans on the sidewalk was inspired in-part by the Hollywood Walk of Fame in California. Too often, pop culture icons are idolized over those who have made more meaningful contributions to society, Hearn said. This activity, especially for those students who have family or friends in the military, really shifts the kids’ focus, he said.
“Some of [the students] brought their own family names and they’re much more invested, I think,” Hearn said. “Their seriousness really spreads to the other kids. They have a better understanding and we’re hoping that catches on with their classmates.”
Next to her soldier’s name, Ariel Henry wrote “the brave one,” which is a character description of anyone willing to put their life on the line for strangers, she said.
“I don’t believe in war,” Henry said. “I don’t think people should have to risk their lives.”