“Together we soar higher.” This Ashland Elementary School motto set the tone for a recent ceremony at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The occasion was to celebrate the Month of the Military Child and to accept the donation of two commemorative quilts to ED by the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) and three Prince William County Public Schools — Ashland, Henderson, and Pattie elementary schools. Attendees included student artists, counselors, and Ashland’s principal, as well as representatives from MCEC, military school liaisons, the Department of Defense Education Activity Educational Partnership Grant Program, and ED staff.
“This event is an enactment of ‘it takes a village,’” remarked Jackye Zimmermann, ED’s director of editorial policy, publications, and the Student Art Exhibit Program, who opened the event. Thanks to a collaboration — of 54 student artists, parents, school counselors, principals, grant providers, ED staff, and others — ED’s lobby now features a reminder of the unique experiences and needs of military children. The teamwork involved in this project, Zimmermann noted, “represents the teamwork that takes place within the military community in behalf of the country and the world.”
Amanda Woodyard, MCEC student transition consultant, said the project “was intended to be a meaningful way for [students] to express themselves … their only instruction was to just say ‘thank you.’” Since participating students had parents either on active duty or deployed overseas, this project was important for bringing the students together to jointly express their emotions as military children.
Students included Kaleb Eisenman, whose dad is deployed to Iraq, and Coco Bouchat, whose dad is deployed to South Korea. Each child wrote an individual thank you on a fabric square, and Adenia Kitt sewed the pieces together to create a quilt entitled “An Elementary Patriotic Thank You.” Another quilt sewn by Kitt, entitled “The We Serve Quilt,” features images of branches of the military. Woodyard offered these quilts as a donation to ED’s permanent art collection.
Principal Andy Jacks from Ashland Elementary School encouraged the audience to remember that every month is the month of military children because every day these kids “serve alongside their families” in their own way. The responsibility of his school, he says, is to provide a community of support for military children and their families, which it achieves through service projects such as this.
“School communities like Ashland, and others in Prince William County, are examples for the rest of the nation: They show how to best support our military students, which advances our military’s mission and our children’s education,” remarked Jason Botel, ED’s acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, upon accepting the donation. On behalf of Secretary Betsy DeVos, Botel expressed his gratitude for the men and women who serve our nation, as well as for their families.
The Department, through its Military Affairs Team, will continue to work with the military community to address the educational needs of military children and help ease their transitions from one school to the next because, just as at Ashland, as a nation “together we can soar higher.”
Before leaving the Department, students wrote kind notes to each other sitting at the foot of another piece of artwork, this one entitled “Kindness Tree: Sticks and Stones,” to further show the values at work in military communities. This piece was donated to ED by Mountain Laurel Montessori School and now sits next to the quilt exhibit.
The tree reminds those who pass by that kindness and teamwork are central to everyone’s work in education so that all students overcome obstacles and reach their potential. The Kindness Tree is also now in ED’s permanent art collection, providing ED employees and visitors the opportunity to write more notes of kindness.
Photo at the top shows Ashland Elementary School students and faculty, joined by Adenia Kitt (far right), military school liaisons, and MCEC and ED staff, in front of the donated quilts.
Molly Howlett is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.
All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Leslie Williams. More photos from the event may be viewed at https://www.flickr.com/photos/128781046@N08/sets/72157682765020795/with/33278963484/.