Denham Oaks Elementary School was awash in red, white and blue as children and staff offered a warm welcome to about 75 area veterans at a Nov. 10 celebration.
As they arrived, a series of signs posted outside the school honored the men and women who have served in the nation’s military.
There were posters and other artworks all over campus carrying the same message of gratitude.
Fourth- and fifth-graders expressed their appreciation through a gallery of patriotic artworks. Second-graders made ornaments for the veterans to take home, and third-graders made them greeting cards.
All of the school’s students learned patriotic songs to sing at the event.
“As you can see, our whole school is decked out to celebrate our veterans,” said Principal Mardee Kay Powers, who leads the elementary school at 1422 Oak Grove Blvd., in Lutz.
Music teachers Amarilys Barbosa and Jodi Mark, art teacher Lee Taylor, and physical education teachers Fred Cornelius and Justin Partain organized the event, which included all 725 students and the school’s staff.
Mark brought the event to Denham Oaks two years ago, from Lake Myrtle Elementary, where she used to teach.
Veterans attending the celebration were clearly touched by the school’s gesture.
Some came wearing military uniforms, while others dressed more casually.
They took turns at the microphone, telling the crowd what branch of the military they served in and where they served. They also gave shout-outs to their sons or daughters, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, or others who had invited them.
Several expressed gratitude for the obvious preparation the school had made for the day, for their appreciation of the armed forces and for their reverence toward the American flag.
Teachers involved in putting together the program seemed pleased to play a part.
“It happens to be my favorite performance because it’s teaching them (students) the respect for their country, the respect for the veterans. It’s also the only event where we can get the entire school — because of the numbers — all together at the same time,” Mark said.
“All of the kids are getting into it,” Partain said.
Cornelius agreed. “It’s special because they see the value of what our vets did for us.”
Barbosa also noted: “When we’re teaching these songs, we’re teaching them what it means to be a veteran. We’re teaching them why this country is so great and what makes it so great.”
Edwin Aguiar said he couldn’t resist attending the ceremony.
“My granddaughters (Lilliana Nazar and Gracey Jayska) — you cannot say ‘No’ to them, so I decided to take the day off and come in,” Aguiar said.
Derrick Jayska, another Army veteran, is Gracey’s dad. He said he also has a niece and nephew at the school.
“It’s awesome to come out and see all of the stuff they did.”
“It’s nice to see that they’re teaching them the history behind things.”
Caryl Wheeler, a spectator, from Lutz, was pleased that her husband and other veterans were honored.
She also was impressed by the ornament and greeting cards the children made for veterans to take home.
“They thought enough to give this to our veterans, the people who served our country — when there is so much hatred now for the American flag,” Wheeler said.
“I’m glad that this school and other schools throughout Pasco County are doing a great job of promoting the flag and the country,” she added.
Published November 15, 2017