When veteran and guest speaker Bob Ollis of Staten Island began talking at the Memorial Day Commemoration at McKinley Intermediate School, I.S. 259 on Tuesday, May 24, about the death of his son while serving in Afghanistan, students and guests listened intently to why this holiday is so important to him and his family.
“While it is a mourning period for my family and me, I know many of you will be at barbecues or shopping,” said Ollis. “Take a moment on Memorial Day to thank the servicemen and women who fought for this country.”
Red and blue lights danced on the auditorium stage while students read poems, performed music and listened to guest speakers there to honor veterans at the annual commemoration event.
For three years, the seventh graders of Jessica Amato’s English class have been reciting poems and listening to veterans speak about the importance of honoring those who sacrificed their lives protecting their country.
“This is a life lesson for everyone, that freedom is not free,” said Amato.
Amato, who has been an English teacher at the junior high school since October, 2002, found that it was important to have her students learn about the significance of Memorial Day in a creative and more interactive way. For weeks, Amato’s students wrote and prepared poems for the event, and picked the best 12 to be read in front of the student body and the guest speakers.
“Spoken word is a great way to think about and analyze the importance of that day and what veterans have to sacrifice,” said Amato.
Throughout the event, students learned the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and which days are of commemoration and celebration.
Principal Janice Geary understands Amato’s vision of bringing students together and discussing the holiday rather than reading about it.
“It takes it out of textbook context and makes it come to life. It allows the students to have a real learning connection,” said Geary.
Councilmember Vincent Gentile, a McKinley alumnus, told students that he encourages them to keep learning about the importance of Memorial Day throughout the weekend at the Brooklyn Memorial Day parade.
“It’s important for the younger generation to understand why we remember and honor our veterans,” said Gentile.
The event had a lasting impact on the students at McKinley. Seventh grader Hannah Puelle, one of the students in Jessica Amato’s English class who participated in the commemoration, hopes that the rest of the student body learned as much as she did about the national holiday.
“It’s not just about a sale at Macy’s or a barbecue, it’s a day to remember and appreciate the people who sacrificed our lives for us,” said Puelle.