Young patriots hit the books

Elementary school program fosters responsible citizenship among children

December 03, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Colton Geiger scanned the symbols of the Maryland flag.

"I know about the flag," the 9-year-old said. "It was adopted in 1904. The yellow and black colors are for the Calvert family and the red and white colors are for the Crossland family."

Colton, a fourth-grader at Norrisville Elementary School, was reciting one of several requirements he has to satisfy for the Patriot Program.

The program, which is not part of the regular school curriculum, teaches pupils the skills they need to be responsible citizens. Sponsored by the PTA, the program has about 160 of the school's 220 pupils enrolled, said Mitzi Webster, the program's chairwoman at Norrisville.

"We offer the program as a supplement to the curriculum," said Webster. "Most of the things the students are learning in the Patriot Program are not covered in the classroom."

Parent volunteer Denise Baker said the program is voluntary, and the children learn everything at home. "It gives our children a chance to learn about our country and our state," she said.

Norrisville Principal Duane Wallace, an ex-Marine who served in the Vietnam War, said the things the children learn about patriotism are very important.

"It's a wonderful example of how parents work with teachers for the benefit of the students," Wallace said.

If the pupils are interested in the program, they sign up and receive a packet of information containing required activities with recommended completion dates, and take the handouts home to study.

Parent volunteers run the program and are assigned to each classroom. Each week the volunteers come to the school at a designated time to test the children.

The volunteers listen to the pupil and evaluate if the pupil has mastered the requirement. Children get more than one try to get it right, but not in the same session.

The testing period begins in October and ends in mid-April. Pupils completing the program get to sit on stage with local and state politicians at a May assembly.

"We usually have a senator, the county executive or a representative from his office come and say a few words to the children," said Webster. "The students also receive an American flag and a certificate from the school."

But it's about more than just receiving recognition, said fifth-grader Jordan Smith.

"This program is important because it helps us understand what happened in our country in the past," Jordan said. "And it helps us learn about states other than Maryland."

Each grade level has different objectives.

At the kindergarten level, pupils must recite the Pledge of Allegiance, name the colors on the United States flag, identify the U.S. and the Maryland state flag, and name the president and the capital of the United States. The requirements get progressively more difficult in higher grades.

"All the students recite the Pledge of Allegiance," said Lynne Smith, a volunteer. "Some grades cover the same things, such as flag etiquette, but the higher the grade level, the more they have to know."

First-graders have to identify not only the colors of the U.S. flag, but also the number of stars and stripes on it. Second-graders are required to tell how many stars and stripes there are on the flag, and what they represent.

By the time pupils reach the fourth grade, it's tough, said Quinton Smith, in his fourth year in the program.

Required activities include identifying the Maryland state flower, song, bird, dog, tree and sport; reciting "Maryland My Maryland"; and answering multiple-choice questions about Maryland and its history.

Reciting the counties in Maryland has been his biggest challenge, Quinton said.

"I have a lot of trouble remembering all 24 of them," the 9-year-old fourth-grader said. "But my dad has been helping me with helpful tips on how to remember them. He told me to remember Allegheny County as alligator county."

The more objectives you get, the more you learn, said Colton.

"I enjoy learning about things I didn't know," said Colton. "Like I've been learning things such as who wrote the Declaration of Independence."

While studying the counties, Colton has also learned some new study techniques. "I read the county names, and then cover them up with a piece of paper," he said. "Then I say them again and again. The more often I do this, the more I can remember."

Satisfying the requirements gets harder in the fifth grade, said Hunter Moreland. He has 10 activities that include reciting the key phrase from the Preamble to the Constitution; paraphrasing the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, labeling the 50 states on a map, and reciting part of the Declaration of Independence.

For now, learning the 50 states is Hunter's goal. He relies on a computer game as a study aid. The game has a map of the United States. He clicks on the name of a state and then the place on the map where he thinks the state is located.

Although it's hard work, he said the program is worth it.

"This year I learned about the midnight ride of Paul Revere," said the 10-year-old, who has participated in the program since he was in kindergarten. "There's always something that makes me excited to do it again each year. I learn a lot and I think it's important to be patriotic."

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