Bringing Meaning to Veterans Day
To some American children, especially those born after 9/11, Veterans Day passes just like any other. But to students at The Oaks Academy, Veterans Day has a deeper meaning.
Each year, The Oaks recognizes veterans, current military members, public safety officers, and civil servants in a chapel service the week of Veterans Day. But the chapel service is not just an opportunity to thank our veterans—it’s also an opportunity for Oaks students to connect what they are learning in the classroom with the real world. This is especially true at the Middle School, where the 7th and 8th grade students study the very wars in which these veterans might have served. As part of their unit on World War I, the 7th graders read Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front and visited several war memorials including the Indiana War Memorial Museum, the USS Indianapolis Memorial, and the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial.
Though some would see this field trip as a way to reward students for completing a classic novel, to 7th grade Humanities teacher Tom Prible, the field trip may have been the most important day in the unit. “A lot of times you don’t even pay attention to these statues and stones, but each one of these is telling the story of somebody. They are powerful experiences for making history come alive for students.”
The Oaks prioritizes this kind of active learning, and consequently, each grade goes on an astounding eight field trips each year. It’s an expensive commitment, but it’s worth it. So again this week, Mr. Prible’s 7th graders loaded into buses and went to the Candles Holocaust Museum in Terre Haute to hear survivor Eva Kor speak about her experiences in Auschwitz. “They will remember her, even if they forget everything else about the Holocaust and what we’ve read,” said Mr. Prible. “They will always remember her. That’s way more powerful. That’s why we go.”
The 8th graders also went on a field trip recently—to Washington D.C. In addition to enjoying ethnic food and chatting with a secret service agent, the 8th graders also visited the memorials, the Holocaust Museum, and even the battlefield at Gettysburg. They saw a veteran at the Vietnam Memorial, weeping and running his fingers over a friend’s name. They witnessed the artifacts of the worst genocide in world history. They walked two miles across the bloodiest battleground on American soil. And at the end of the trip, they discussed goodness and beauty in the face of evil and misery.
Oaks students aren’t spared the hard questions. They have to wrestle with some big ideas, and sometimes there isn’t a clear answer. But it is through the questioning that they really learn. They understand the sacrifice of the many men and women who fought for their principles. So after Veterans Day chapel, when the students shook hands with our veterans and thanked them for their service, they knew what they were saying.