Sgt. Major Bryan Battaglia welcomed at the William McKinley School

On Friday, March 1, students Kelly Perez, Karina Paez-Rojas and Angela Cabutaje of I.S. 259 confidently escorted Sergeant Major Bryan Battaglia, the highest ranking enlisted man in the armed services and senior enlisted advisor to the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, through an incredible, September 11 memorial mural, adorning the second and third floor hallways of the school.

As Battaglia admired the mural, alongside NYPD officer turned FDNY firefighter Carl Graziano, the girls painted almost as vivid a picture with their words as the mural itself. “They tried to tear us down, but all they did was make us a greater nation,” explained Perez, an eighth grader.

The mural, painted entirely by students of the William McKinley School, spreads across two floors and incorporates images, poems and names relating to 9/11. While Battaglia described it as a “pretty powerful image,” student Paez-Rojas evoked a pretty powerful sentiment when she said, “It shows that we are uniting; we are not collapsing.”

With a large window shining light into the third floor hallway from the east, the teachers and students said, when the light gets very bright, the names painted in gold, are illuminated. Battaglia was even able to take part in the mural by assisting a student to inscribe a name onto the wall.

“Textbooks just don’t cut it,” said Principal Janice Geary. “It is so important to have volunteers and people like the sergeant major come and speak.” Geary went on to explain that teaching children facts and telling them about the events is fine, but it is people and first-hand accounts that they really connect to.

In a library full of students, teachers and the sweet smell of pizza, Battaglia took the floor. Before beginning his speech, he said to the students “Let’s eat!” allowing them each to grab a slice. “What do you come to school for?” he then asked the kids. After a unanimous mix of “to learns,” he said “Man, did I get educated today.”

“Simply awesome,” Battaglia described the mural. “You’re very, very special. We are all extremely proud of you.” Graziano added, “All we are, are problem solvers, here to keep you safe.”

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