Merrill Students Share the Stories of Iowa Veterans

Merrill students along with principal Alex Hanna at the Iowa Gold Star Museum.

It’s a shame everyone who fears that notions like honor and sacrifice are lost on the up and coming generation couldn’t have been at the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum at Camp Dodge last night. They would have gone home with changed minds and freshened perspectives.

When the 2012-13 school year began, Merrill teacher and U.S. Army veteran Dale Erickson launched a mission: to rescue the stories of past generations of soldiers from anonymity with the help of a regiment of then 7th and 8th graders. As cornerstone concepts for a nine-week unit in the school’s International Baccalaureate curriculum, Erickson designated honor and sacrifice and sent Merrill students rummaging through the attic of history to research and learn a soldier’s story of their choosing. Some took the assignment closer to home than others and researched the military service of parents or grandparents.

Last night the nine-week unit that began more than a year ago culminated when 10 students out of the hundreds that began the process together were recognized for developing exceptional projects, including at least one that it’s hoped will become part of a permanent display.

There were speeches by Museum Director Sherrie Colbert, Erickson and Merrill Principal Alex Hanna. Each of them was clearly moved.

“My father was a Viet Nam vet who died in 2007,” said Erickson. “I started volunteering here at the museum as a way to honor his memory.”

Eventually he came up with the idea for the school project because he wanted students to be “aware and interested and to appreciate” what military service fully entails, for the vets and their families.

“Mr. Erickson comes to me with many project ideas and doesn’t always get the answer he wants,” said Hanna. “But this time he really hit the jackpot.”

As the project evolved students were asked to develop ideas incorporating technology that would serve the purpose of interesting their peers in the rich history of Iowa’s vets.

The following students were recognized for their exemplary work last night: Colette Atwood, Antonio Bafia, Intisar Becic, Dahlia Callistein, McKenna Horstmann, Ellie Konfrst, Quinn Mahoney, Rabsa Naseer, Ben Stone and Cade Warren.

Whatever their first thoughts about it, the students all got fully invested at some point.

McKenna, for instance, got to know a grandfather who died before she was born. She learned that he was a bomber pilot during WWII who was shot down and held as a POW in Germany for over a year.

The story of John Phillips, another WWII POW who was captured at the Battle of the Bulge, inspired Intisar to design a mannequin equipped with a projector as a means of telling his story through his own eyes. Sadly, Phillips died just recently.

And Ellie’s grandfather, Mike Glover, was already well-known to Iowans as the long-time statehouse and political reporter for Associated Press. But this project helped Ellie get to know him even better by learning more about his time in the service.

Rabsa’s project is a design that will enhance the museum’s submarine display and fundraising is underway to help make it a permanent part of that exhibit.

“You hear about veterans all the time,” said Dahlia, “but I really had no idea what it actually means to be a soldier before. And what a sacrifice it is for soldiers’ families.”

Erickson’s objective was a wider understanding and appreciation, not recruitment. But time will tell if this assigned experience swells the ranks of America’s troops.

For more information about Rabsa’s project and to make a donation towards its installation contact Sherrie Colbert @ 515-252-4531.

Photos of Merrill Students at the Gold Star Museum

DMPS-TV Report on Merrill Students Honoring Veterans

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