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St. Helens Middle to honor veterans with assembly

St. Helens High marching band, choir to perform


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Rhys Robbins, left, an eighth-grade student at St. Helens Middle School, with her principal Carol Dowsett, right. Robbins and Dowsett were among the people at St. Helens Middle whose ideas helped spark a Veterans Day assembly planned for Friday, Nov. 8.Students and staff at St. Helens Middle School will gather in the school gymnasium next Friday, Nov. 8, for a public assembly to mark Veterans Day.

The half-hour assembly will start at 10 a.m. and be followed by a light reception for veterans. It will feature musical performances by groups from St. Helens High School. Members of the public are invited to attend, and folding chairs will be set up for guests.

The St. Helens High marching band will perform the national anthem and a medley of motifs used by different military service branches, and the St. Helens High choir will sing “America the Beautiful,” said St. Helens Middle librarian Shelly Sandford.

Sandford was one of several people who helped shape this year’s assembly. She is the sponsor of the St. Helens Middle chapter of the National Junior Honor Society. Early in the school year, she said, she was helping students plan service projects that emphasized “character traits,” such as good citizenship, that NJHS members are supposed to embody.

Meanwhile, eighth-grade student Rhys Robbins was considering a way to honor her mother’s military service — by wearing her old United States Army uniform to a school dance.

“We were talking about the dance, and I wanted to wear my mom’s Army outfit, and we just got talking, and that came up,” said Robbins, whose father and stepfather are also Army veterans, on Monday, Oct. 28.

“She wanted to come up with a way ... that she could honor her mother, who served,” Sandford said.

Like many ideas in a creative environment, Robbins’ idea snowballed. Inspired by Robbins, Sandford and the NJHS began planning a school event to recognize military veterans.

“Originally, we were going to host something small in the library,” Sandford said. “It has grown into an assembly.”

Principal Carol Dowsett, who took over as the school’s top administrator after moving up from the North Lake School District in southern Oregon this year, encouraged the event’s evolution. She said she was surprised to find no major Veterans Day tradition at her new school, but she had some ideas for how to build one.

“We had quite a big veterans assembly going at my previous school, and I said we started out small,” said Dowsett.

Eventually, the music department at St. Helens High got involved, and the NJHS put together a reception to follow the assembly.

“It’s just a gathering, an opportunity for veterans to share stories with students, reconnect with each other,” Sandford explained.

The birth of a schoolwide assembly, one that Dowsett suggested could become an annual event at St. Helens Middle, seems to have taken Robbins entirely by surprise.

“I don’t think I’ve even told them yet,” Robbins said of her parents. She added, “I think it’s pretty cool that we get to do this. ... I don’t know what’s going to happen at the assembly.”

Upon being told that the St. Helens High band and choir will be performing, Robbins smiled.

“Cool,” she said.