A Kutztown Elementary class created their own Wall of Heros, honoring those who served in the military, both living and deceased.

“They will have a deeper understanding of the reason we take a day to honor our men and women in the Armed Forces,” said KES first grade teacher Claire Kempes.

First graders study citizenship and patriotism as units of study in the curriculum and the Memorial Day holiday gives a natural opportunity to cover these topics, she said.

“During this unit students engage in discussions about patriotism, courage, honor, and pride,” said Kempes. “Their discussions indicate that they have a deeper appreciation for our country’s flag, National Anthem, and this holiday we call Memorial Day.”

Part of the project is to read the story “The Wall” by Eve Bunting, about a father who takes his young son to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“Together they search for the name of the man’s father (the little boy’s grandfather). The father and son share feelings of sadness and pride. As we read the story we are pulled right into the emotions,” said Kempes, who plays a recorded reading to her class. “It’s an emotional read. I had to make a recording of it because I can’t get through it.”

Kempes also displays some of her father’s items from WWII.

“I place his name along with uncles and cousins on the Wall. Some of our teachers, custodians, current and past administrators have placed names on our Wall of Heros, too.”

Kempes has been conducting this project every year for Memorial Day for a long time.

“Every year we just add to it and it grows,” said Kempes. “Memorial Day is an important day. I want students to know why they have off for that holiday. Why we have off from school. Why businesses close and we have parades. Why is this important.”

Students are given a letter to take home to their parents to discuss veterans in their family.

“Additionally, this project helps to integrate family and school,” she said. “Most first graders are under the impression that their families do not know any veterans. This assignment gives a great opportunity for families to have a discussion and students share a sense of pride as they read about their honored veteran and place their “brick” on our Wall of Heros.”

Kempes said each student was asked to discuss with their family and generate a list of people they knew who were or who are currently serving in the Armed Forces. Students placed each name on the front of a red paper brick and wrote additional information about their veteran on the back. During a class presentation students read each name and a brief introduction before placing the brick on their First Grade Wall of Heros, hanging in the school hall for all to see.

First grader Logan Clattenburg wrote on a red brick the name Melissa Anderson, his Mom, who served in the Navy for eight years as an intelligence analyst.

“I liked that I got to put veterans I know on the Wall,” said Logan, who also placed the names of his uncle and great grandfather on the Wall.

Sophie Guldin wrote on a red brick the name Chad Guldin, her Dad, who served in the Marine Corps during Desert Storm.

“I liked it because we got to see a whole Wall of people that we didn’t know (that served in the Armed Forces),” said Sophie.

Jessica Sherrer said, “I liked this project because we got to share our family with our class and remember the soldiers that were in our family.”

“I like that we get to meet other people that are up on the Wall,” said AJ Campbell.

“Like (Principal) Mrs. (Deborah) Barnes’ husband is on the Wall,” added Kempes. “So we’re learning a lot about other people in this project.”

Asking her students if their Wall of Heros is a good way to celebrate Memorial Day, the students agreed.

Kempes became emotional realizing this will be the last Memorial Day project with her students as she is retiring at the end of the school year. She has been teaching at KES for a total of 22 years.

“She has been a terrific asset to our school,” said Principal Barnes. “She has really made a big impact on the lives of hundreds of first grade students who have been at Kutztown Elementary School and we hope she will continue to be a presence in our school even after she retires.”

Mrs. Orwig asked to continue this tradition of honoring veterans.

“I love that it will continue,” said Kempes.

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