LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The kindergarten class led the way, the preschoolers followed with flags held high — and teachers reminding them not to let them hit the ground.
They stood in the cafeteria and looked over a crowd of some 75 armed service veterans and began singing patriotic songs. When they finished, they had handmade cards of thanks to give to each and every one who attended.
Meanwhile, the third-graders were going from table to table asking, "would you like more coffee, sir?" The first-graders were waiting outside the door, ready to perform their own songs.
The scene was the annual Veterans Breakfast at Lanesborough Elementary School. The annual event is a schoolwide initiative to thank the town's veterans and has been a longstanding tradition in the school.
"Kids love it. It is a great thing for them to understand that Veterans Day is not about a day off. It means much more. This is a big tradition here," said third-grade teacher Anna Mello, who headed the effort.
Cafeteria workers put together a special meal with eggs, pancakes, and the rest of a traditional breakfast. The students lined up and served the guests. At the tables, there were placemats drawn and colored by the second-graders. The fifth-graders made cards. The younger ages made flags. The wall was decorated with student artwork honoring the country and the veterans and a wall of honor was built recognizing the town's veterans by name. The chorus led the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem, under the direction of the music teacher.
"We had as young as pre-K in here today, singing a song. The kindergarten teachers are teaching respect to the flag and holding flags up high and not touching the ground. It gives them a sense of community and sense of belonging. It is really important across the grades," Mello said.
Every grade level had some role in the event that has been growing each year. The 75 veterans in the audience were double that of about a decade ago and the celebration has been held for at least 15 years.
"It is a big deal here. To us, nothing is more important than our veterans," Mello said.
Principal Martin McEvoy called it a "little token of our great appreciation" but says the effort provides lessons to the students as well. While the focus is on veterans, it is also opened up to police, fire, and emergency medical technicians who also put themselves in harm's way to help the community.
"It teaches the kids that it is really important to not always look for the easy way out and to persevere in the face of hardship. The veterans are our heroes because they exemplify personal sacrifice for a larger goal, larger than themselves. They really embody what it means to be unselfish and putting others before yourself. That's a great characteristic for our kids to have," McEvoy said.
"The veterans will keep at it until the goal is done. They are great role models."
The students didn't just entertain, but also worked as servers.
Concurrently, the school is collecting donations for the veterans food pantry in Berkshire Village. The pantry feeds not only veterans but people in need all over Berkshire County. But keeping up with the demand is hard so the school is collecting donations to help them out as well.
"They are always in desperate need for food. They never turn anyone away whether it is a veteran or not. They have their challenges so we're doing that," Mello said.
The students individually thanked each veteran, escorted them to tables, and held the doors on the way in and out, wishing everyone a happy Veterans Day. The two-hour breakfast was greatly appreciated by those in attendance.
"I think it is appropriate that somebody from our group say thank you for all of these smiling faces, the wonderful help — more coffee, sir? more juice, sir? — and compliments to the girls in the kitchen, wonderful breakfast," said Marvin Michalak, who took to the microphone to thank the collective school body for their effort, calling it a "job well done."
The veterans had all been personally invited, and pupils had given invitations to their veteran relatives.
"It is just a beautiful day when we can just give back a little token of our great appreciation," McEvoy said.
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