I wanted to tell you about the Veterans Day assembly my school district held last November and the artwork the high school students unveiled that day.
My new school has a lot of connections to veterans, especially through the Honor Flight. I think this year was the 7th Honor Flight. Through fundraising and donations, a bunch of veterans were flown to Washington D.C. along with students to host them and some teachers to chaperone. They leave very early in the morning and get back late, with the expectation that the students still go to school the next day. They were extremely tired, but it sounds like everyone had a wonderful experience visiting the monuments, getting to know their veterans, and hearing stories. I had talked to a couple students I have in class before they go about a particular shot I wanted them to try to get at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with the hope of turning one into a large collaborative drawing. Thankfully one of them got the perfect shot, and to make it even better, it showed Bob Powers, who had recently retired as head custodian in our district and is now working as a bus driver.
I got feedback from the students on how they'd like to get the drawing put together. In the interest of both time and accuracy, I gridded the photo and printed off each section to scale (8x8 inches). Students had the option of using the light box to trace the contours. I didn't feel bad about doing this since it was not for a grade- just to practice shading and texture and more importantly, to collaboratively create a contribution to the assembly. Underneath each section of the photo, I typed the code like A2, E3, etc. and most students remembered to write that on the back. It made it much easier to reassemble the image. When all the drawings were finished and sorted, I matched them up as well as I could and taped them from the back with clear packaging tape. That was the point I realized that not all of the papers I cut on the paper cutter came out square or exactly the same size. The assembled drawing had a few ripples but it still laid relatively flat.
Some students hung the drawing for me the day before the assembly, right next to the stage, and covered it with paper so it would be a surprise. The next morning before the assembly started, I removed the paper.
The assembly was very moving. We had videos students had produced, performances by the band, singing by many grades and a senior who will major in music, the presentation of the flag by the Jr. ROTC in my former school district, and a speaker. When the 3rd grade sang a song with verses about each branch of the military, the veterans stood up for their part without being asked to do so. I had so many favorite parts of the program. One favorite part was when the 6th graders presented each of the veterans with a flower. Another favorite part was when the speaker reminded us that many of the soldiers, especially from Vietnam and Korea, did not receive a warm welcome or appreciation when they returned home. He asked them each to stand up by war while we yelled "Welcome Home" and applauded.
But as the art teacher, perhaps my favorite part was to see Bob beaming standing near his portrait after the assembly. He asked the woods class to make a big frame for it and found a spot to hang it at home. It was so worthwhile and I hope we can do similar projects in the future!