Veterans Day assignment was a valuable lesson for our family

EdNews Assistant Editor Devin Bodkin will write a regular Monday column to shine a light on an education issue from the week. Contact him with ideas at [email protected]

BLACKFOOT — The photo of her great grandpa, a Korean War veteran, sparked our 6-year-old’s curiosity in a way we didn’t expect.

His bandana and wartime tattoos — eagles wrapped in ribbons on his forearms — were especially interesting to her.

My grandpa and Korean War veteran Russ Bodkin, who just finished chopping wood outside his house sometime in the early 80s. Grandpa died in 1986.

“I like them,” said Nayvie, before taping now-deceased Grandpa Russ’s picture to a Veterans Day assignment her first-grade teacher sent home ahead of the annual holiday this Thursday.

Connecting her to a deceased grandparent with military ties felt important, but I didn’t know until recently that the assignment was in preparation of a school activity etched into Idaho law.

Thanks to my day job at Idaho EdNews, I learned last week from our data analyst Randy Schrader — a retired K-12 superintendent and resident K-12 legal expert — that celebrating Veterans Day at school is a part of state code. All schools in session on Veterans Day must spend at least one class period “honoring American veterans.”

The assignment was also a revelation of sorts for our family. I had no idea about the law, or the questions Nayvie would pelt us with after telling her about Grandpa’s time in the Navy.

“What’s a war?” she asked my wife and me, following that up with a string of questions about soldiers, countries and why can’t people just get along.  

We also talked about her other Great Grandpa Lovell, who flew a P-38 bomber over China during World War II. Before I knew it, I was a on the phone with my Grandma, who told me that Grandpa Russ entered the service in 1952. He had other tats, she said, including a Donald Duck on each one of his calves locked in conversation with each other: “Hey you!” on one leg and “Who me?” on the other.

I thought about my own Veterans Day festivities as a kid growing up in the same town. I don’t remember much about grade school, but I do remember veterans showing up every year to talk to us.

One of them — a World War II vet named Hero, aptly enough — would speak quietly to our entire school. Through the years, I pieced together that Hero’s combat team stationed in France and Italy was one of the most decorated in American Military history for their size and length of service.

Today, activities rooted in the Veterans Day law vary from school to school. Some students read a poem or watch a video, while other schools go all out with assemblies and visits with veterans willing to share their experiences.

Whatever your kid’s school is doing, spend some time with them before Thursday. You might be surprised what you both learn.

Some 250 Rolling Hills Charter School students gathered in the gym at the school, in 2019, for a Veterans Day celebration.
Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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