Veterans share experiences with Pilgrim Lutheran students on unusual school holiday

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Veterans Bud Dobyns and Norm Steinerj talk with fourth-graders Mallory Creech, Ava Grunow and Madison McCaw during a luncheon to honor veterans on Veterans Day at Pilgrim Lutheran School.As Chris Herold, Pilgrim Lutheran School’s principal, admits, when it comes to students and learning opportunities, all national holidays are not created equal.

“There are a few days off school that don’t have to do with kids,” Herold said from the school’s bustling cafeteria on Monday afternoon.

On Veterans Day, when most other schools were shuttered and many kids enjoyed a leisurely day off with their families, class was in session at the private school at 5650 S.W. Hall Blvd. Rather than the usual reading, writing, arithmetic and gym classes, however, students heard teachers and local military veterans share stories and explain the true significance of the reverent national holiday.

“We wanted to make it meaningful to kids so they understand why it’s a holiday,” Herold explained, as students and teachers enjoyed lunch with visiting local veterans. “Citizens’ education is not something that’s overtly taught in school. We’re taking this as an opportunity to educate them about all the things they need to know but don’t always have an opportunity to learn.”

Many veterans who visited Pilgrim Lutheran walked there directly from Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ, where just a few blocks away, Beaverton American Legion Post 124 held its annual Veterans Day Ceremony next to the U.S. flag-encircled Veterans Memorial Park at Hall Boulevard and Watson Avenue.

Herold encouraged teachers to create their own ways of marking the holiday in school. First-graders made a morning visit to the spiraling, historically informative Vietnam Memorial in Southwest Portland’s Washington Park. Local veterans shared stories with third-graders, and all students were invited to an afternoon ceremony featuring Pilgrim Lutheran’s choir and handbell choir amid stories about Veterans Day’s significance.

“I pictured all along making it a special day,” Herold said. “Each teacher is doing something a little bit different.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Fourth-grader Emma Dixon stands with her grandfather, Ralph Cox, a Marine veteran, during the Pledge of Allegiance at Pilgrim Lutheran School.

The meaning of freedom

If being at school bothered Quinn Schroeder, a seventh-grader at Pilgrim Lutheran, while friends at other schools enjoyed a day off, you couldn’t tell by talking with him during Monday’s guest-filled lunch.

“It’s really good to hear others share their stories,” he said. “It’s a way for us to interact with the community. It helps us understand when we hear stories about the Army and everything they’ve been through.”

Schroeder, whose father, James, served for a year in Iraq, said while Veterans Day at home is typically marked by a big dinner with extended family and a viewing of “Pearl Harbor” or a similarly patriotic movie, this year was more special than usual.

“It prompts us kids to think and reflect,” he said, noting while his father wrote home from Iraq whenever he could, the only birthday of Quinn’s he missed was during his stint in Iraq. “People who haven’t been affected by the cause of war don’t understand how difficult it is.”

Fifth-grader Brittany Hampton agreed with Principal Herold: Coming to school on a holiday has its benefits.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “A lot of when we have time off is not always celebrating what the day off is about. Freedom isn’t free. I don’t think we recognize what some (veterans) have given up to be free. I think it’s good for students to be reminded of what led to them being free.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Chuck Fenning, a  Coast Guard veteran, shares a laugh with Pilgrim Lutheran School seventh-graders Wyatt Ueeck and Andrew Reid.

Experiences old and new

Marty Welch, who teaches seventh-grade history, noted only one of his students was absent on Monday, and that was because of an illness. He praised Pilgrim Lutheran for what he called a “great experiential approach.

“A lot of time we talk distantly about Veterans Day,” the Aloha resident observed. “This way, students get to experience (the holiday) with each other and hear stories from veterans. We talk a lot about sacrifice. This is what it looks like.”

“It’s traditionally a day (for students) to sleep in,” Welch added. “Now it’s a day to communicate. The veterans are drawing students into a new way of experiencing this day.”

Hillsboro resident Mark Schultz, who served in the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1962, said he likes the idea of young students coming to school on Veterans Day.

“Absolutely,” he said, “because they’re learning something. Just taking the day off for Veterans Day means nothing to ’em. And if you continue doing it, they’ll have more knowledge of what’s going on in the world.”

Gary Schroeder, Quinn Schroeder’s grandfather, served at various stations in the National Guard’s 116th Cavalry from 1959 to 1965. He agreed that students can learn a lot on Veterans Day.

“I think it’s great,” he said of the school’s unorthodox approach. “It shows how important it was that we fought for our freedom and to protect the country.

“That’s what the flag stands for.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Veteran Doug Reitmeier stands and represents the Army during the song, 'Salute to Service,' sung by the students at Pilgrim Lutheran School.

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