RHS Veterans Project and Uncorked Event
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Information submitted by Monica Rizzi and Kelly Lancaster
The nation recognizes “Veterans Day” today, Friday, November 11th. However, Rutherford schools, along with many others, believe veterans deserve recognition every day. Two English teachers at Rutherford High School created a project that gave their students the opportunity to learn more about our local veterans and express their appreciation for their dedication and service to our country.
This is Rutherford spoke with Mrs. Kelly Lancaster about the details of the project.
TIR: What made you decide to develop this project?
Kelly Lancaster: For starters, my grandfather was a part of the 101st Airborne and he served on D-Day during World War II and my husband served in the Marine Corps. Ms. Rizzi’s Uncle served in the Navy. After teaching The Great Gatsby over the years and discussing the American dream with my classes, I thought it would be a great opportunity to incorporate Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation, into our course. Veterans and their families share stories that focus not so much on their training and fighting, but on the love, they had for their families and their desire to come home and pursue the American dream. In addition, as we read chapters from The Greatest Generation, many students shared their memories of the Veterans Assembly that Mr. Mulcahy holds every year at Washington School. The students were so proud to share their stories with the whole class and many explained how that was one of their favorite memories of Washington School.
In May, Monica Rizzi and Kelly Lancaster asked their 9th-grade students to read excerpts from Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation. The teachers and their students completed a walking tour down Park Avenue. They took the time to stop and observe Rutherford’s veteran flags. Each student chose a veteran or two and wrote them letters. The employees at Borough Hall assisted by making sure the letters were received by the veterans. One student received a letter back from the family of one of the veterans, Russell Pipo. The letter written by Russell’s son, Don, explained some more about Russell’s life and service. He also included photos. Receiving this letter was very meaningful for both the student and their classmates.
TIR: What do you think your students enjoyed about this project?
Kelly Lancaster: The students seemed to really enjoy the walking tour and they realized that they knew many of the veteran’s family members. Two flags that we passed along the way, one on Park Avenue and on Lincoln Avenue, were veterans whose grandchildren are students at RHS. It would be difficult for us to say who was more excited seeing those flags, the grandchildren or the grandchildren's classmates. Many of the students also shared that they found the anticipatory station activity interesting and fun because they were asked to listen to music and watch short clips of movies.
TIR: While touring the town to see the Veterans' banners, you both asked your students to choose a Veteran to write a letter to (and/or his or her family), what did your students learn from this experience?
Kelly Lancaster: Our students learned that our small town of Rutherford is filled with veterans. They also learned the power of gratitude as many of the veterans or their families were extremely thankful for the letters our students wrote. Many family members shared how the memories of their loved ones came alive after reading a personal letter from one of our students and they could not wait to share the student’s letters with other family members. Many of our students also shared how happy they felt after writing their letter to a veteran and thanking the veteran for sacrificing years of his or her life to keep our country free.
TIR: What do you think your students “took away” from this project?
Kelly Lancaster: We believe our students discovered a better understanding of what veterans and their families experience. After completing the walking tour, our students delved deeper into The Greatest Generation. Even if they do not think about it each and every time they pass the veteran flags, for one special moment, many of them paid a little more attention to those who served our country and we believe that interest transitioned to a greater interest in reading and learning.
TIR: Why do you personally believe it is important to pay tribute to and learn more about our local veterans?
Kelly Lancaster: Living in a town such as Rutherford, where so many of us grew up together and knew one another’s family members, makes paying tribute to our veterans all that much more important. From Mr. Lecke, whose experience in World War II is a part of HBO’s The Pacific, to those who are currently serving, we think our veterans are role models. Military service requires a commitment and many of us can only imagine the sacrifice that it entails. Walking down Park Ave and Union Ave offers opportunities to look up at a sign and glance into the face of a young man or woman, many of who were really just kids by our modern standards, and try to imagine what made the person make such a commitment for others.
These teachers plan to continue with this project this May with their current class.
To support the Veterans Alliance, the Rutherford Chamber of Commerce will be hosting "Uncorked for the Veterans" at the Rutherford Congregational Church. See the flyer below and click here to purchase tickets for this very special event.