Park Place Middle School students took a creative approach to honor the community’s veterans this year.

Instead of piling into the gymnasium, which is out of commission due to a massive remodel, students stayed in their classrooms for the Thursday morning Veterans Day assembly. They turned their attention to a video pieced together by Tonia Boyle’s leadership and Kayleigh Shaw’s production students. 

“They’ve never experienced something like this before because we have never had the technology to do it, nor the reason,” Boyle said, “because we have always had the space to do an assembly.”

It took about a month of long hours in and outside of class to map out plans, compile footage and edit and reedit the final film, Boyle said. Kids called veterans, some researched literature, the school choirs and band practiced songs, the Dance Cats rehearsed routines and some students even skipped – with their teachers’ permission — other courses to prepare, she said.

Jim Capps, father of PPMS eighth-grader Anna, was one of a handful of veterans who came to watch the video with Boyle’s class. He said he was very pleased and proud of the students’ efforts.

“I was honored,” he said. “I was super, super impressed. I could tell how hard they worked on it — these kids, they put a lot into it.”

Capps was in the Navy from 1989 to 1997. He was deployed to the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield in 1990. It was there on the USS Independence aircraft carrier that he first saw combat.

Before the Gulf War started, Capps said it seemed less than likely he would be involved in any fighting. He joined because he saw it as an opportunity to travel the world; he knew war was a possibility. He likened it to a firefighter who knows when they start the job there is a fair chance they will have to put out a fire. He remembers seeing planes fly out from the deck of the ship, heavy with bombs and returning empty.

“It was a little bit hard at the time, but over the years it has gotten to bother me more,” Capps said.

He developed PTSD from the experience. It has been hard to hold down jobs and maintain relationships. He said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been a tremendous help in his own experience.

While no one who hasn’t been there can understand, Capps said, those who have served can feel respected, honored and appreciated for their service. The entire student body and school staff escorted Capps and the other veterans to their cars following the assembly.

The kids filed out of their classrooms to line the sidewalks and track. Many cheered, some clapped, a few reached out for high fives.

“When we were walking out some of these kids reached out and shook my hand and what not,” Capps said. “I could tell it wasn’t just a class assignment, that they were really happy to be there, and they wanted to do that for me and they looked up to me.”

Traditionally the leadership class puts on the school’s annual Veterans Day gathering and decorates for the holiday. This year it was tricky because they were in the middle of a chaotic construction zone. Boyle said during brainstorming the group collectively settled on the idea of developing a video.

It was tough work, she said. They had to keep coming back to the different elements of the project to revise and tweak and improve. The final product was even better than they could have imagined, Boyle said.

“I think the biggest thing they get out of it is understanding why we should honor our veterans, why it’s important to say, ‘Thank you for your service,’” she said. 

In the video, Madie Poole explains the history of the holiday. The date represents the major battles of World War I formerly ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month that year.

“On Nov. 11 each year, all schools in America have a day off, not to take a break, but to celebrate our veterans winning World War I in 1918,” she said. “Veterans Day is important because of the precious freedoms our military got for us. Veterans Day is also a good day to remind us to thank the people who served for us and risked their lives for us.”

Boyle said the students who spoke directly with the veterans may have gotten the most out of the project. What they gained from one-on-one interaction isn’t something she can teach, she said.

Working on the project was the first time eighth-grader Grace Monroe had spoken with someone from a branch of the military other than the Marine Corps. She interviewed PPMS teacher Jody Stanwyck for the video. Paraeducator Keith Ingersoll and custodian Steven Blanton also spent time on screen.

Stanwyck said she joined the Air Force because her sister was in the Navy, and she wasn’t going to sign up for the Army or become a Marine. She said her years in the service led her to meet her husband, who was studying Chinese; she was also a linguist. Because of her work, she gets to tell people, “I spied on Cuba.” She said she would listen to pilots and translate what they were saying.

Monroe ended the conversation by asking if there was a message Stanwyck would like to give the younger generations about serving their country. She believes the answer was very well put. She said it helped her see that her own freedoms were a privilege and not a right.

“Serving your country is an honor, and we live in a free world, and there is a reason for that freedom and service is a way of giving back,” Stanwyck had said.