Students give troops a musical tribute

North Harford fifth-graders `sponsor' soldiers in Iraq, send them CDs

December 24, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Shortly after the start of the war in Iraq, Krista LaPaglia saw the impact the war was having on the local community.

Friends and relatives of students and faculty members at North Harford Elementary School in Pylesville, where LaPaglia teaches, were being sent to the war zone.

One of those deployed was the husband of the school's assistant principal, Dyann Mack.

Mack, who had a 2-year-old and a newborn, came to work at the school shortly after her husband, Capt. Kilo Mack, was deployed to Iraq, LaPaglia said. "Everyone in the school felt it would be a difficult time for her."

To show her support for Mack's husband and the other soldiers serving in Iraq, LaPaglia, who has been teaching at the school for about five years, started a drive in the winter of 2004 to obtain phone cards and toiletry items to send to his unit.

Calling on the talent of her fifth-grade chorus, she also put together a musical tribute to soldiers who were "sponsored" by students in the school.

"I wanted to make sure that our students understood what the soldiers are doing and how it affects them," she said.

Now she is putting the final touches on a third CD, a rendition of the song "You Are Our Heroes," by Teresa Jennings. The CD includes a PowerPoint presentation featuring pictures of soldiers and their sponsoring students.

This week, the CDs were distributed to the students, who will ship them to the soldiers.

LaPaglia said it is her way of making sure the soldiers know that someone cares about them.

"I see this project as a way to pull the community together and honor our soldiers," she said.

The response has been tremendous.

Soldiers have written her letters, and some have come to the school to thank her, she said.

One woman whose husband was deployed to Iraq decided to fly to Maryland to see what the students had done and to see her husband in the performance, LaPaglia said.

Scott Kuhn, a fifth-grader at North Harford whose cousins Stephanie Jones and Molly Dennis are in Iraq and are featured on the CD, said the project has helped him understand how much it means to the soldiers.

"I was happy to include my cousins," said the 10-year-old Pylesville resident. "I wanted them to be on the screen so everyone would know that they are in Iraq fighting for us, and I wanted them to see that all of us kids are all proud of them. Now they know that people care, and I hope they really like what we're doing."

Madison Yurek of Street said Lt. James MacDonall, a family friend, is stationed in Iraq.

"Lieutenant MacDonall is brave enough to go to Iraq and fight for our freedom and to keep our country safe," she said. "I think we need to show him that it matters to us and we care."

Maria Griswold, 11, of Whiteford, who has a stepbrother in Iraq, said the project gives students her age a chance to show that they understand what the soldiers are doing.

"Some people think the soldiers shouldn't be honored," she said. "I think they should, because they are making it so I can be here and sing this song for them."

The project has reached out to residents who don't have children in the school. Members of local veterans organizations came to see the video and requested a copy to show at their meetings, LaPaglia said.

About 20 of the veterans attended the first concert in 2004.

"Afterwards, we sent them a copy of the CD, and they sent us a donation for our playground," she said.

As part of the project, LaPaglia has tried to help the students develop a better sense of patriotism by encouraging them to participate in the PTA-sponsored Patriot Program.

The program is designed to teach children about citizenship and patriotism. They do such things as recite the Pledge of Allegiance, name the presidents and the 50 states, and learn how to properly hang and fold the American flag.

LaPaglia told her students that she would do whatever they wanted her to do if they broke their record for the number of children completing the school's Patriot's Program.

"As it turns out, they broke their record and I had to cut my long hair in a Mohawk and dye it red, white and blue," she said. "But it was worth it."

Her patriotism comes from her father's service during the Vietnam War, she said.

"I lived through the anger toward the military and their families," she said. "We can't make another mistake. We can't let our soldiers down like we did back then."

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