On the morning of November 11, Jan Zehren, Intermediate school PE teacher, held her 19 annual Veterans Day assembly in the Shorewood School District, with a new guest speaker, Mike Roberts, elementary school teacher.
“I’m proud of what we do in Shorewood for our veterans, acknowledging them, I don’t want any veteran to ever feel forgotten,” Zehren said.
The event started at Lake Bluff and eventually became part of tradition of Atwater and the intermediate school as well. “19 years ago Mr. Juffer asked a couple of teachers if we would do a veterans day at Lake Bluff, at that time I was traveling between SIS and Lake Bluff, and I immediately said yes, and Mr. Rosen said yes, so I asked my dad if he would be the keynote speaker and he agreed to do so,” Zehren said.
“The keynote speaker this year is Mr. Roberts from Lake Bluff. He went to West Point and served in the army for 12 years, he was a helicopter pilot during Desert Storm. I like his message, it’s his history, and also includes lessons on being brave,” Zehren said, “As well as audience participation which was a little different then we’ve had before. He also gives a little history about the different wars, quickly going through them all.”
Teachers, students and veterans alike all really appreciated Roberts’ message. “It was really great, Mr. Roberts spoke, and I got to see how he was ‘back in the day,’” said Jadon Roder, SIS student.
“He would say ‘Being brave doesn’t mean that you’re not afraid,’ and we as audience members would say ‘you do it anyway,’” said Todd Ross, Intermediate school teacher.
Messages on bravery were not the only meaningful impact left behind on the audience.
“What I think is so powerful about it is just, every year the behavior of the kids blows me away, I don’t think there’s any better tribute to someone than teenagers digging deep to pull out behaviors beyond developmentally appropriate for them out of respect for these veterans. I also think it’s incredibly powerful to watch that show of respect shatter some misconceptions and stereotypes about teenagers because I can’t image any… of the veterans picture anything that powerful, that meaningful and that intensely respectful. That’s where I think the real power is,” said Kelly Steiner, Intermediate school teacher.
Last year, the seventh and eighth grade students raised $4500, enough to send nine veterans on the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight, this year, funds of $2250.17 were raised in the fourteen hours spent outside Sendik’s, and plans for more fundraising are still going on.
Zehren says that she appreciates the student performances that happen at Veteran’s Day assembly.
“I always love having chamber choir singing … this year seventh grader Olivia Johnson will be tap dancing to Stars and Stripes Forever, eighth grader John Ewing is singing The House I Live In by Frank Sinatra,” said Zehren, “The orchestra will be playing Danny Boy, band students playing Taps, and we will read the beautiful, patriotic children’s story America’s White Table, explaining the significance of a white table when you go into an American legion post, many people don’t know the meaning behind that and this story explains that.”
“Veterans Day is a good way to honor veterans who are still serving and certainly to honor the veterans who have died, what Ms. Zehren does is awesome. The news parts of the assembly also really stuck with me, all new, all awesome,” Ross said.
Around 30 veterans attend assemblies annually at each elementary school, and almost 20 at SIS, many of which return year after year.
“Mr. Braun, who lives in Whitefish Bay has been involved every year for 19 years, it’s really important to keep our history alive and the only way we’re going it do that is by telling stories. That’s why it has been really important to me too, to have a different key note speaker every year as so many of our veterans have so many different experience and it’s good to hear as many of those stories as we can,” Zehren said.
“It’s beautiful to see one of my colleagues share so much of herself and her passion in a way that makes all of us better and all of us see people better,” said Steiner. Spending several 16 hour days at school the week of the assemblies every year, Zehren has strong ties to the cause.
“I started because of my dad, I continue to do them as a way to keep his memory alive, and it’s also a way for me and everybody else to honor and show respect to our veterans for the sacrifices they’ve made. It’s really important that we do it, every year so many of the veterans are appreciative of the way that the Shorewood students conduct themselves at the assemblies,” Zehren said. “They feel incredibly respected and impressed beyond belief at the speakers’ musicians, and singers. It’s really important to them, and seeing young people involved in the assemblies warms their hearts.”
Many of the men and women who served in WWII and Korea and Vietnam don’t typically talk about what they’ve done, and the assemblies are a special place for many veterans to open up for possibly the first time.
“I had never heard [my dad’s] story before, he wouldn’t talk about things, and so when he agreed I actually learned of his story from his speech that year, because he would never talk about those things, as many veterans from his generation don’t,” Zehren said. Shorewood high school does not currently do any activities to celebrate and honor Veterans Day.
“Honestly, I believe SHS doesn’t do something like this to honor veterans day because I haven’t pushed for it and I would be more than happy to work with high school students to do it at the high school level, I hear every year, especially from freshman, kids wondering why SHS doesn’t have an assembly. If some kids want to step up and we could work on it for next year and I’d be more than happy to do that, that’d be special. Our first key-note speaker at the high school could even be Mr. Thomas, he is a veteran,” Zehren said.
“I would love to see a Veterans Day assembly at the high school next year, you don’t just learn at them, but you get to see what veterans have done before and why we should appreciate them,” Roder said.
By Olivia Poole