All photos courtesy of Lakeview School
By Jillian Risberg
They put their lives on the line everyday to protect our rights and freedom, and now the Lakeview School wants Denville’s veterans to know how much they’re loved.
The school is gearing up for their annual Veteran’s Day program when the student body and staff gets the chance to connect with our local veterans.
It all started 27 years ago when a group of teachers decided it would be worthwhile to start a veteran’s program at the school.
“They organized the whole event and it just became a part of the culture of our school,” says Principal Elizabeth Baisley. “They said it was important to teach patriotism to the children, and as time went on we found it more and more important for them to appreciate the country that they live in.”
According to the principal, the students are taught all the patriotic songs, including those that represent each branch of military service.
The veterans are invited in for the presentation and then they are provided a catered lunch following the show.
“Every year we have seniors who apply for (college) scholarships and many of them talk about Veteran’s Day and what an impact the program they provided made on these veterans,” Baisley says. “It has really touched them that still as seniors in high school that’s one of the things they remember most about their journey through elementary school.”
The other constant of the show from year to year is always about recognizing the veterans and the students showing their patriotism.
“‘We’re a school (the whole community of the school) that every morning begins with the Pledge of Allegiance,” the principal says. “And all the children know, no matter where they are — in their classroom or not, in the hallway, they stop and do the pledge, with the entire school.”
She says it’s something they’ve instilled in the children that they think is important because as time goes on things get lost.
“And if we don’t take the time to teach them that you worry where it will go, so it’s important that we take the time to teach them patriotism,” Baisley says. “And it’s something that becomes very palatable in the room when we’re teaching it because the kids actually see it.”
Then the veterans actually have the opportunity to go to the classrooms, where their grandchildren or their children are and ask questions or answer questions for the students about what it’s like to be a veteran. The principal says it just brings the community into the school.
Getting to witness this for the 28 years Baisley has been on staff there has been great.
“Every year it brings me to tears to see how much it means to the children as well as to the veterans,” the principal says. “And that’s why I think it’s lasted this long, because of the importance of it — it’s felt.”
She says the Lakeview PTA raises the money in order to provide a wonderful catered luncheon for the veterans.
“And them knowing that, seeing how important it is that they go out and they do fundraisers,” Baisley says. “Then our fifth-graders actually help to serve the veterans, give them anything that they need and help clean up.”
According to the principal, it’s something that she says they are very, very proud to do at the school.
“Here at Lakeview, it’s one of our most important events that we put on here,” Baisley says.
“You really want it to be a community and a culture and for the kids to remember.”
She says of course the academics are always so important but you want to have a child who’s going to be a good citizen when they grow up.
“So we have to make sure we embody all of those things in our children as they make it through middle school,” the principal says.
The entire Veteran’s Day event is student driven, according to vocal teacher, Daniel Komorowski, who has helmed the program for the past 16 years.
“We begin the morning (about 9 a.m.) with fifth-graders that greet and welcome the veterans as they come into the building, then they sign them in, give them name-tags and escort them around the building,” Komorowski says.
He says the staff allows all the veterans to visit every classroom and share their story.
“For that day all the teachers have an understanding that if a veteran knocks on the door, we stop and welcome them into our classroom,” the vocal teacher says.
Then at 10 a.m. they start the program — with the entire fourth and fifth-grade performing a variety of songs.
“We have a color guard that will bring in the American flag, New Jersey flag and each of the service flags while we sing,” Komorowski says, adding that the ceremony ends with the playing of TAPS and their rendition of ‘God Bless the USA.’
According to the vocal teacher, when he first introduced the program to his fourth-graders (the fifth-graders already had a year under their belts) — he described it as a selfless act that they won’t know how good they’ll feel until after that day.
“Then you’re going to come to me and say, ‘Mr. K, I know what you were talking about,’” Komorowski says he told them.
“It’s just something we instill in this building that it’s our only concert that people aren’t there to see us, we’re there to perform for them — and we really do a nice job of delivering that message.”
Getting to take part in this event was personal for Cuff and when it comes to what the veterans have done to ensure our freedom as Americans so we can live secure and successful lives, the fifth-grader says it means so much.
“I like the fact that we get to do this whole celebration and I actually had a few of my family members who were in the service (the Marines),” she says.
According to the American Legion Auxiliary, “Freedom is not free and we should remember our soldiers’ sacrifices … who gave some, or all, to defend our country and our rights as citizens.”
Honestly, we can’t even imagine what it’s like to decide to defend our country and never look back, get on a plane to report to an intense 10-week basic training (boot camp), graduate and become a soldier, sailor, airman or marine.
We can’t imagine what it’s like to work in a job where you risk your life on a daily basis, look the enemy in the eye, have a devastating power to make life and death decisions and part with your loved ones, family, and friends for unwieldy stretches of time that make no logical sense to the average person.
In fact, according to a new Career Cast poll, enlisted military again take the top spot for the most stressful job in the country.
That’s why we need to take this Veteran’s Day to focus on the very people who’ve always had America’s back and effectively kept us safe and protected.
For all that our vets have endured— so that we can live a beautiful life, the ALA recommends stopping and thanking our members of the Armed Forces and engaging meaningfully with the veteran and military community. They say the veteran’s journey is one that few civilians understand, despite the nearly 22 million Americans who share it.
That’s exactly what the Lakeview School has been doing with their veterans for the past 27 years, pausing to sincerely listen.
Brynn Weldon’s grandfather was in the Army and she appreciated that the veterans shared their individual experiences.
“It was a lot of stories and amazing to hear what they’ve gone through,” Weldon says. “They didn’t have to do it, they chose to do it to protect our country. And you feel really grateful that they took their time to come and tell you about what it was like.”
The fifth-grader says when one is little you don’t know what this is all about but you feel special attending these kind of programs and it’s a lot of fun.
“For the past 75 years, our military has directly guaranteed not only security and prosperity, but also human rights and freedoms,” says Col. Miguel Howe, of the Bush Institute.
And Brynn’s fellow classmate, Patrick Andersen acknowledged the significance of this event.
“I feel that Veteran’s Day has a very strong meaning to how the veterans risked their life to keep our country free and us to have our rights,” Andersen says. “With this program I got to know more about what my relatives have done in the service to help keep our country free.”