The Veterans Oral History Project Act was passed by Congress in October 2000 so that we can learn and remember the experiences of military veterans. The Act says that “It is in the Nation’s best interest to collect and catalog oral histories of American war veterans so that future generations will have original sources of information regarding the lives and times of those who served in war and the conditions under which they endured, so that Americans will always remember those who served in war and may learn first-hand of the heroics, tediousness, horrors, and triumphs of war.” As a result, the Library of Congress is collecting and archiving these interviews for researchers to use in the future.
On Tuesday, March 17, 2009 at 6pm Old Mill High School took action by having an event called the Patriot Night. During this evening, 100 International Baccalaureate (IB) 12th grade students in teams of three interviewed 35 veterans who participated in various wars of the 20th and 21st centuries. The interviews were videotaped, cataloged, and sent to the Library of Congress. They will also be posted on the website of a local non-profit group called Creating Communities - Voices of Our Elders, a group dedicated to acquiring the oral histories of war veterans from Anne Arundel County.
The evening began with the Navy Information Operation Command MD Color Guard, the pledge of alliance, National Anthem, and a brief welcome. It was followed by a game to break the ice and a catered dinner. After the dinner, the ceremony continued with two guest speakers (the Director of the Veterans History Project from the Library of Congress and a WWII/Korean War veteran) and a POW/MIA ceremony. Then the veterans and students broke out to various classrooms throughout Old Mill High School for the interviews with their assigned veteran.
Potential Service-Learning Action Experiences:
- Students will learn:
- Why it’s important to preserve oral histories of veterans
- A first-hand experience in history that is not taught in textbooks
- Patriotism, heroism, and sacrifice
- Researching skills
- How to collaborate with other classmates
- The techniques of conducting an interview
- How to treat others with dignity, care, and respect
- To reflect upon what they’ve learned
1. Meet a recognized community need
(e.g. What health, education, environment or public safety need was met? How did you determine there was a real need in this area? Who was helped by your project?)
There is a need to get down the stories of veterans before it’s too late. We need to remember, appreciate, learn from, and reflect upon their experiences in the future. There are no more WWI veterans and WWII veterans are dying off at an alarming rate – 1,000 per day. Korean and Vietnam War veterans are aging as well. The veterans we interviewed were able to share their valuable experiences, which will now be documented for all-time and be available for researchers at the Library of Congress. Their families will be able to see the interview for generations to come on the internet at www.VoicesofOurElders.com. My students were able to personalize history, learn what personal sacrifice truly means, and be taught something of heroism and patriotism.
2. Achieve curricular objectives through service-learning
(How did the project reinforce or enhance student academic learning?)
In International Baccalaureate (IB) 12th grade, their history class is called 20th Century Topics. In this class, students learn about WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War. Most of the veterans we interviewed are from these wars. We also interviewed veterans from the Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan War, and Iraq War.
In addition, the IB mission statement encourages students to be active, compassionate, and lifelong learners. They also should strive to meet the goals in the IB Learner Profile, including “inquirers” – developing a natural curiosity; “communicators” – working effectively and in collaboration with others; “caring” – showing compassion, respect, and making a positive difference to others; “reflective” – giving thoughtful consideration to their own learning experience; and “knowledgeable” – acquiring in-depth knowledge. Patriot Night complies with both the IB mission statement and IB Learner Profile.
3. Reflect throughout the service-learning experience
(What types of activities did students engage in to reflect on their project?)
I kept motivating myself by thinking that these veterans have a legacy that should be left behind and that their stories of heroism should not be untold. Although this project took a great deal of my time, it is the veterans that made the true sacrifice through serving our country and giving up a part of their lives for our freedom.
In addition, comments that people made to me along the journey to completing Patriot Night motivated me as well. One veteran told me that African Americans are not recognized much as participants in our country’s wars, even in today’s media coverage with the Afghan and Iraq Wars. Another veteran told me that one of her relatives recently died and that she found out after his death something that she had never known --- that he was a Korean War veteran. His wartime experience is lost forever. One of the most interesting comments about the event was a non-veteran parent, who said that Old Mill High School was supposed to be the home of the Patriots, which is our mascot, but that we’ve never done anything much for veterans. As a graduate from Old Mill High School in ’95 and a current teacher there, that was all the motivation I needed.
4. Develop student responsibility
(How did students have opportunities to make decisions about the service-learning project and take on leadership?)
Students helped me by:
- Finding veterans
- Planning the decorations, music, and events for the night
- Bringing utensils, plates, napkins, drinks, salad, and dessert to supplement the catered lasagna and ziti dinner
- Researching the war the veteran was in and the role that he or she played
- Developing interview questions and conducting the interview
- Dressing in homecoming style clothes
- Being personable, outgoing, and knowledgeable
5. Establish community partnerships
(With what community partners did you collaborate? Non-profits, civic organizations, businesses that provided donations, etc.)
- Creating Communities: Voices of Our Elders – non-profit group that assisted with giving my students tips on how to conduct interviews with veterans and brought in a WWII veteran as a guest speaker. The interviews will also be posted on their website that honors Anne Arundel County veterans (www.voicesofourelders.com)
- Anne Arundel County American Legions – helped with identifying veterans
- The Anne Arundel County Board of Education’s Social Studies Dept. and Service-Learning Dept., as well as Old Mill High School’s IB Coordinator funded the project
- Dreyers Ice Cream donated 200 ice cream bars
- Three Brothers Pizza gave us a special discount on the ziti and lasagna for the dinner
- Giant, Shoppers Food Warehouse and Mars donated gift cards
- Old Mill’s PTA, AACo. Board of Ed’s PTA, Athletic Boosters, my students’ parents, teachers and staff at OMHS, Glen Burnie Improvement Association (GBIA), Civitan – all helped with identifying veterans and/or managing the night’s events
- Maryland Gazette – promoted Patriot Night and advertised for veterans to participate
6. Plan ahead for service-learning
(How did you prepare and plan for the project?)
- Reserved time and space at Old Mill High School
- Searched for veterans to participate
- Had students form into groups of three; assigned each group a veteran
- Coordinated the project with my 12th grade IB History students and my colleague’s 12th grade IB History students by calling three assemblies during advisory
- #1 – Creating Communities gave the students interview tips and had a WWII guest speaker
- #2 – Explained the details of the project, interviewing techniques, and the responsibilities of the students
- #3 – Reviewed interviewing techniques and gave final advice
- Searched for funding
- Searched for the lowest cost for catered food
- Got Dreyers to donate ice cream
- Made sure we had enough videocameras, one for each of 35 veterans
- Had parents come in to help with the evening
- Had the students plan the course of the night and decide on decorations; purchased decorations
- Mapped out the locations of classrooms where the students and their veterans would conduct their interviews
- Contacted media sources to cover the event
7. Equip students with knowledge and skills needed for service (What did students learn through the experience?)
My students learned a first-hand experience in history that is not taught in textbooks. It personalized history and made it come alive to them. In fact, through the whole process of planning, conducting the interviews, cataloging them, and sending them to the Library of Congress, my students were making history and doing something patriotic.
I think that my students now have a better understanding of patriotism, heroism, and sacrifice. I’m sad to say that many students today don’t stand up and say the Pledge of Allegiance when they are supposed to at the beginning of the school day. They are too busy or don’t care enough to do it. This is not patriotism. Many students today would consider athletic stars, movie stars, and other celebrities to be their heroes. The true heroes are the veterans. Many students think of sacrifice as giving up a night out with friends to do homework. The veterans that we interviewed sacrificed years of their life and devoted it towards defending our country in order to promote our freedom. Their lives were frequently under threat, many saw their friends die, some were injured, and a few many have even been POWs. After this event, students had a much better appreciation for patriotism, heroism, and sacrifice.
My students also learned researching skills; how to collaborate with other classmates; the techniques of conducting an interview; how to treat others with dignity, care, and respect; and to reflect upon what they’ve learned.