The entire Charter Oak International Academy community gathered together in front of the school Monday morning for a touching Veterans Day ceremony honoring both retired and active duty soldiers.
The solemn notes of Patrick Whalen's bagpipe processional set the tone for a ceremony that included heartfelt speeches by Charter Oak students, many of whom are first generation Americans.
Student Kitana Park read the history of the flag as a prelude to a flag-raising – of a flag brought back from Afghanistan – by the 103rd Airlift Honor Guard. Veterans and soldiers saluted as a bugle played in the background, and even the elementary school students remained respectfully silent.
Student Mariana Temponi led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The next item on the agenda – singing of the National Anthem by Javier Colon – was a special treat for all in attendance. Colon, winner of NBC's "The Voice" in 2011, is a Charter Oak parent.
Student Thanh Dao gave a "Welcome and Salute to Veterans and Soldiers," followed by Gavin Morton and Alyssa Lozada honoring their dad, a member of the Air Force currently on his third deployment in Afghanistan who has been gone for the past six months.
Charter Oak's SAIL Community Service Club, dressed in shirts spelling out "WE THANK YOU," read a poem. SAIL students are Yazeed Almazraawy, Nasyve Beech, DeLauren Coombs, Aaliyah Norton, Kitana Park, Nyssa Park, Nevaeh Rivera, Justice Seymour, Kedwin Vega, and Dominic Zaleski.
Charter Oak has planted a "Liberty Elm" on the school grounds in honor of veterans and soldiers, and students Tatyana Massa, Thanh Dao, and Amelia Neal officially dedicated it.
Troy Walcott of the Air National Guard was the recipient of 10 boxes of goods collected by the Charter Oak community and presented by student Akshay Deodat.
The mournful sounds of "Taps" filled the air as Charter Oak students Carla Lopez, Andrew Paridy, and Makaila Sawyer placed a wreath at the base of the flagpole. The fifth grade chorus sang "America" to close the ceremony.
Veterans and soldiers who were the day's honored guests, as well as school and town officials and members of West Hartford's legislative delegation, joined the Charter Oak community for a breakfast, and many spent the day visiting classrooms and speaking with students.
Superintendent of Schools Karen List said she thought that celebrating Veterans Day with ceremonies such as this one was much more effective and meaningful than a school holiday. List said that Veterans Day was observed and discussed on Monday in every school in the district.