JoAnn Martin uses Veterans Day as an opportunity to teach her son Maxwell, now a fourth-grader at , about thankfulness. This year, Maxwell will show returning military what he has learned, as part of a student delegation that will be present at the dedication of the Freedom Center on Friday at McNamara Terminal in Detroit Metro Airport (DTW).
The delegation of several students, parents, teachers and administrators, solely from Ealy, will present military personnel returning home from the Middle East on Friday with a video, by third-grade teacher Marla Gartner and volunteers, to thank them for their service. The video will play on a continuous loop at the Freedom Center.
The students' involvement in the project was the idea of Gartner and parent Victoria Steward, who agreed that they wanted to give the diverse student body of Ealy the opportunity to get in touch with the "why" of celebrating Veterans Day.
"I wanted to see the kids to tell the story in their own words," said Gartner. "I polled three classes, and more than half had some type of family connection to the military. It's pretty powerful to hear the students talk about those roles and express how appreciative they are in doing what they do to help the country."
Steward, the Michigan chapter chair of volunteers for the American Red Cross and grandmother of third-grader Blake Goodman, said she had suggested the class's involvement with DTW in order to learn about "being a part of a global community."
"(Blake's class) were all out of their minds with excitement when they heard about the recording," Steward recalled with a laugh. "(Blake) couldn’t believe that they were going to be on TV. He asked me questions like, 'How many people would hear him?' "
Ealy students will also hand-deliver a book of letters of appreciation, written by the entire student body as a homework assignment, which Gartner said she hoped would involve parents in the process.
In addition, a contingent of Japanese parents from the school helped students fold 1,000 origami cranes, which will be delivered as part of the dedication Friday.
"Ealy is a unique school because it’s very diverse — 26 languages are spoken there," Gartner said. "In this assignment, I thought this would be a chance for parents to talk about their military connection with their children. We talked a lot about service men and women and what their jobs were — big brothers and sisters in the military as well as parents."
Martin said she hopes the experience is enlightening for Maxwell, whom she said is honored to be part of the dedication.
"I just want him to know how lucky you are. There are kids who have to life with strife. He doesn’t have to do Skype with his dad somewhere," said Martin, a Pontiac resident. "This project makes him feel important. We've been a part of charitable collection drives for the military and their families before, but now he feels like he gets to be the delivery boy."
Laura and Neal Schwartz of West Bloomfield used the project to expand upon what they had discussed together during a family vacation to Arlington National Cemetery last summer with their daughter, Lindsay, a fifth-grader at Ealy. Neal will accompany Lindsay to DTW Friday morning.
"We talked about all these soldiers around us — how these markers represent a human life and how freedom doesn’t come for free. Every day that we wake up, they’re off fighting in foreign lands. I’m hoping that she always remember this event and she’ll be able to appreciate it as she gets older," said Neal Schwartz, who added that his father had enlisted in the American military during World War II.
"Lindsay had heard offhand about her grandfather being in the war, but she called him and talked to him about his experiences in the war. It was a learning experience," Laura Schwartz said.
Steward said her grandson Blake comes from a "military family," including an uncle of Blake's who is currently stationed in the Middle East. She said she hopes the experience will tie in the themes of the importance of volunteerism and patriotism to students of a young age.
"Some kids are academically gifted, some are athletically gifted, and they have the venue to be recognized for their efforts right away," Steward said. "Service allows everyone to be recognized.
"The school might be getting some nice publicity for this, but we all know that we're in this together as a global community. To those who teach the meaning of Veterans Day and don't get any recognition, my hat's off to them."
Located adjacent to Gate A43 in the McNamara Terminal, the 1,100-square-foot Freedom Center will serve members of the armed forces and their dependents. For more information, visit mifreedomcenter.org.