Forest Hill pupils show the power of patriotic thinking

Kids memorize Americana to honor teacher in Iraq

May 13, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun reporter

The Gettysburg Address. The 50 states and capitals. The Preamble to the Constitution. The fifth-graders at Forest Hill Elementary School can recite them all.

And it's not just the fifth-graders.

For the first time, the entire student body at Forest Hill Elementary memorized political speeches and documents to become patriots, as defined by the school's Patriot Program. And they did it for their teacher, Adam Lawall, a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve who was deployed to Iraq in November.

Students and faculty say Lawall is the kind of teacher who would play foursquare with his kids during recess and who continues to write a postcard from Iraq to each of his fifth-graders. During a school assembly before he left for Iraq, Lawall urged the entire student body to work hard to become patriots. Teachers say the students responded in unison, "We will try, Mr. Lawall."

Six months later, the 589 students fulfilled their promise by meeting their grade-level requirements.

"We did it, Mr. Lawall" reads a sign in front of the school.

Lawall's wife, Shawn, teaches music at the school and his stepdaughter Meredith Myers is a first-grader there. Shawn Lawall said the outpouring of student effort did not surprise her.

"The kids love him so much that they didn't want to be that one kid who didn't do it," she said. "They wanted to do it for him. They knew it was going to be hard."

Each school has different standards for the Patriot Program. The voluntary program is geared to teach students in county schools about American government and traditions.

"They're all memorizing `The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,' every state and capital, and all the Colonies," said Marybeth Ford, the school's assistant principal. "It's not easy work. They're not coloring in a flag or something."

Students at Forest Hill agree it wasn't easy. But Haley Ensor, one of Lawall's fifth-graders, said she had extra motivation.

"Other people are in Iraq risking their life for us," she said. "The least we can do is this."

Older students helped the younger ones by quizzing each other and making flashcards. Parent volunteers calling themselves "patriot moms" came to school to coach and test the kids.

Most of Harford's 36 elementary schools have a Patriot Program, which is unique to Harford County, said Don Morrison, a public schools spokesman. The program started in 1978 after an elementary school teacher encouraged her students to memorize American government documents and speeches. The idea quickly spread to other Harford schools.

Although Morrison wasn't certain whether this was the first time an entire student body at a Harford school fulfilled the Patriot Program requirements, he said it was a rarity.

To mark the occasion, Forest Hill Elementary will have an assembly on Lawall's birthday, May 29. Students and teachers have written to Oprah Winfrey and the Today show, appealing for help to get a live feed from Iraq to connect with Lawall during the assembly.

madison.park@baltsun.com

Patriotic program

A sample of what Forest Hill Elementary students memorized to meet requirements of the Patriot Program, started in 1978 and used by most of the county's elementary schools:

Kindergarten "minutemen": Pledge of Allegiance

First-grade "captains": Colors of the flag and number of stars and stripes

Second-grade "majors": First stanza of "America the Beautiful," and the three branches of the federal government

Third-grade "colonels": First verse of the poem "Paul Revere's Ride," and the original 13 Colonies

Fourth-grade "generals": Preamble to the Constitution and words to the state song, "Maryland, My Maryland"

Fifth-grade "patriots": Bill of Rights, Gettysburg Address, the 50 states and capitals

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