December 11, 2013 - Many believe that in order for the love of and devotion to one's country to truly take root in the heart and mind, patriotism must be learned at a young age.
Winners of the Patriot's Pen and Voice of Democracy contests are (front row, from left) Alexis Wash, Emma Vawter, Vanessa Kasiukiewicz, Ben Miller, Erin Kinkade, Abby Boback and Madisson Brinker. (Back row, from left): Calin Griffith, Abbigale Ribeiro, Mary Jackson, Brendan Moriarty, Mia Kettler and Joshua Hansz. Photos by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
In Oxford, the spirit of patriotism is being instilled in future generations by some dedicated teachers and North Oakland Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 334.
Last week, Post 334, together with Romeo VFW Post 2052, honored this year's winners of the 2013-14 Patriot's Pen and Voice of Democracy contests along with Teacher of the Year recipients.
More than 600 entries were submitted for the Patriot's Pen essay contest, which asked sixth-through-eighth-grade students to write 300 to 400 words on the theme "What Patriotism Means to Me."
Post 334 Commander Jim Hubbard and his wife, Kathy Hubbard, president of the Ladies Auxiliary, believe the contest affords students the opportunity to be recognized for their ability to express their thoughts and ideas in a creative and interesting manner.
"You'll see, as the essays are read this evening, how wonderful those minds work at all ages," Jim Hubbard said.
VFW Post 334's Teacher of the Year winners (center, from left) Amy Granger, Jan Flynn and Jennifer Coggins. With them are VFW Ladies Auxiliary 334 President Kathy Hubbard (far left) and VFW Post 334 Commander Jim Hubbard (far right). (click for larger version)
Of the 12 students whose essays received awards, seven were from schools in Oxford and Addison.
Seventh-grader Joshua Hansz, who attends Kingsbury Country Day School in Addison Township, received first place in his grade level.
Placing second and third were Oxford Middle School seventh-graders Vanessa Kasiukiewicz and Calin Griffith.
OMS seventh-grader Emma Vawter's essay took third place for Romeo VFW Post 2052.
All three winners at the sixth-grade level were OMS students. Earning first place was Mia Kettler, while Ben Miller and Alexis Wash took second and third, respectively.
All three winners of the Voice of Democracy speech contest were from Lake Orion High School.
Kirk Hansen won first place, while Abbigale Ribeiro and Madisson Brinker took second and third, respectively.
Open to students in grades 9-12, the Voice of Democracy requires participants to create written and audio versions of a speech. This year's topic was "Why I'm Optimistic About Our Nation's Future."
Post 334's Teacher of the Year awards, which recognize educators who promote citizenship and patriotism in classrooms and schools, were dominated by Oxford teachers.
OMS choir director Jan Flynn earned first place for the Americana Concert she conceived of and has voluntarily organized for 11 years running.
This popular Veterans Day event regularly consists of patriotic songs performed by OMS choir students, inspiring speeches by veterans, moving photo montages of soldiers past and present, and the participation of local veterans and groups like the Young Marines.
"I was absolutely surprised," Flynn said. "I had no idea that this was going to be awarded to me tonight. I'm humbled. I'm thankful for the opportunity to be able to get to know our vets and share their stories."
Leonard Elementary fifth-grade teachers Jennifer Coggins and Amy Granger won second and third place, respectively, for the annual Veterans Day event they coordinate.
It involves inviting local veterans to the school, serving them a hero's breakfast, having students conduct one-on-one interviews with them about their military experiences and saluting them with speeches and poems.
"We're just so honored to be able to give back to these veterans. It's really all about them," Granger said. "It's an honor for us to help make a difference by doing something meaningful with the students."
"The kids have such a great experience on Veterans Day," Coggins said. "It's great having the veterans interact with the students. We're just so fortunate the veterans can come out and be with our students."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.