Teaching children the meaning of patriotism on 9/11


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St. Mary's School students and first-responders said the pledge of allegiance during a special 9/11 ceremony. Photo by Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala

Being patriotic isn’t just about watching fireworks on the Fourth of July. Just ask the students at St. Mary’s School in Rockledge.

Each year on Sept. 11, the day terrorists struck down two buildings in New York killing hundreds of Americans, the students at St. Mary’s honor and thank first responders during a solemn ceremony around the school’s flag pole.

St. Mary's School kindergarten students, wearing shirts with a flag made of hand prints, hang out with Brevard County Sheriff deputies after the 9/11 ceremony. <i>Photo by Zenaida Gonzales Kotala</i>Students in grades kindergarten through second wore patriotic shirts they made themselves and joined the rest of the student body and faculty to say the pledge of allegiance, sing and say a prayer before presenting small gifts to representatives from the Cocoa and Rockledge police and fire departments and the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.

“We tell our students to be a reflection of Jesus' light, to be selfless and to care about their community,” said Suzanne Strain, a second-grade teacher who organizes the ceremony each year. “Our first responders do this everyday, risking their lives in many cases, with little glory or appreciation. This is our small way of recognizing our local and national heroes. It’s our way to say ‘thank you, we do notice the good that you do and the difference that you make in our lives.’ ”

Strain is also leading a letter writing campaign urging elected officials in Washington D.C. to pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Re-authorization Act.

Congress adopted the act in 2011. It is named after a New York Police Department officer who died from a respiratory disease linked to the recovery efforts after Sept. 11. The act established the World Trade Center Health Program and reopened the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. The program provides medical services to more than 70,000 responders and survivors. The fund provides compensation to those who meet a list of requirements. Both programs will disappear if the law is not reauthorized.

“As a Catholic community, we believe in social justice for all people,” said Principal Sandra Basinger, who looks forward to the ceremony each year. “Our first responders are the ones who are there when there is a disaster or an act of terrorism threatens human lives. They deserve to be recognized for their heroism everyday.”

Eighteen emergency personnel attended the ceremony this year. Many were mothers, fathers or grandparents of children at St. Mary’s.

“It’s beautiful,” said Devon Stenlake, a deputy with the Sheriff’s Office. “It’s great that they do this so our children understand and never forget. I’m so grateful to Mrs. Strain for doing this each year. She does a fantastic job.”

 For more information about St. Mary's School, go to stmarys-school.org or call 321-636-4208.

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