Old Mill South pupils learn to put patriotism first on Memorial Day


May 23, 2002|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ASK YOUNGSTERS why we celebrate Memorial Day, and they'll likely tell you, "Because it's opening day at the swimming pool."

But the pupils at Old Mill Middle School South in Millersville know better. Thanks to the efforts of Michelle Malchester, a teacher who never forgot the lessons in patriotism taught by her parents, pupils at her school know much more about the true meaning of patriotism and the sacrifices of America's military men and women than many of their peers.

The culmination of their year of learning happens at 2 p.m. tomorrow when family and friends are invited to the school's fifth annual Memorial Day Assembly.

Malchester, 40, who is chairwoman of the math department and student government adviser, remembers that when she was little, her parents insisted that she and her siblings stand whenever the national anthem was played, even if it were on television. Her father-in-law is a World War II veteran, and she and her husband always take their children, who are second-, fourth- and seventh-graders, to patriotic events such as wreath layings in honor of war veterans.

"But, until Sept. 11, it seemed to be politically incorrect to be patriotic," Malchester said. It concerned the teacher, who has spent 11 of her 18 years in teaching at Old Mill, that she didn't see patriotism among her pupils. "We're called the Patriots," Malchester said. "We're even located on Patriot Lane."

She decided to do something. With financial help from the PTA, Malchester and a group of pupils bought a stone marker and planted a memorial garden in front of the school. Dated 1998, the inscribed marker is surrounded with flowers and plants; this year, the children added petunias, geraniums and a new layer of mulch.

The garden is the scene of a small Veterans Day celebration each November, Malchester says.

Learning the significance of Memorial Day begins in sixth grade. A committee of pupils - sixth-graders Jeannette Carlson and Caitlin Cyrus, seventh-grader Katelyn Malchester, and eighth-graders Katie Philips and Katie Serlemitsos - spent much of the year researching and writing their Memorial Day lesson plan. Yesterday, the girls presented their program to the sixth-grade class.

To reach out into the community, the school's builders club, a service and leadership club, and the Unity Club, designed to ease racial tension, present a Memorial Day program of music and story to children in nearby Rippling Woods Elementary School.

To better understand problems some veterans face when they return home, the eighth-grade class chose the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training in Baltimore as its service learning project. The 7-year-old, nonprofit center serves as a model for rehabilitating homeless veterans, Malchester said.

The veterans live in the center's 50-bed dormitory in a military-like atmosphere, each contributing to the running and maintenance of the center. College-level courses prepare veterans to re-enter the work force. In addition to counseling and health care, the center provides additional housing for up to two years.

Eighth-graders Jason Brennan and Carrie McKenna are team leaders for this project. Since April, by doing things such as saving change from lunch, the eighth-grade class has collected more than $4,000. Their gift will be presented to the center's director, retired Col. Charles Williams, at the school's annual Memorial Day Assembly tomorrow.

Guest of honor at tomorrow's assembly is Silver Spring resident Elaine Danforth Harmon, a charter member of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots. The school's chorus will perform, and trumpet players ninth-grader Buddy Young and seventh-grader Steven Flores-Gonzales will be buglers for the assembly and the ceremony afterward in the Memorial Garden.

The emphasis on patriotism led to what the pupils call their "Hall of Courage," a school corridor lined with red, white and blue stars that bear the names of family members who serve their country. Among the stars are pupils' poems inspired by Sept. 11.

Information: Old Mill Middle School South, 410-969-7000. Information: Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training, www.mcvet.org.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.