March 05, 2014 - Five – that's how many educators from around the state were selected to receive 'Teacher of the Year' awards from the American Legion, Department of Michigan.
OMS Choir Director Jan Flynn rehearses with her seventh-grade choir students. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
And Oxford Middle School Choir Director Jan Flynn is one of them.
"It was a pleasant surprise," she said. "I had no idea."
Flynn earned the award based on her competence, level of community involvement and patriotism/Americanism.
The main reason Flynn won is the Americana Concert, an annual tribute to veterans that she started and has voluntarily coordinated for 11 years running.
"To be able to honor them and tell their stories really resonates with who I am and who I want to be as a citizen and as a teacher," she said.
This popular Veterans Day celebration regularly consists of patriotic songs performed by hundreds of 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 interested in performing with a purpose and connecting with the community," Flynn said. "That's really where it started."
"To be able to celebrate Americanism and patriotism and our heritage as a country was very exciting to me," she continued. "We love doing it. It's a great opportunity to serve the community."
Every year, the concert draws hundreds of attendees who pack the high school's Fine Arts Center. "It started very small and it's been able to grow since then," Flynn said. "I'm very grateful that we can do it and that we have a beautiful facility to give the best that we can to our vets."
Prior to the concert, Flynn has local veterans, dressed in their uniforms and wearing their medals and ribbons, visit her classes to share their first-hand accounts of life in the military and on the battlefield. "It's a really great experience for the students to be able to listen to the vets, to talk to them about their service, their injuries," she said. "Sometimes they ask difficult questions, but the vets don't ever shy away from answering. They're willing to talk to the kids about anything."
"The students have been exposed to what it means to have others sacrifice on their behalf. It's very meaningful to them," Flynn continued. "The kids look forward to it and the vets look forward to it."
In addition to the Americana Concert, Flynn annually brings a group of choir students to perform in Addison Township's Memorial Day ceremony at Lakeville Cemetery.
"The principle of freedom is very important to me," she said. "I have a lot of family that have served in the military."
Her son, Justin Flynn, served in the U.S. Air Force from 1998 to 2004 doing explosive ordnance disposal. "It was a source of incredible pride (to have a son in the service)," Flynn said. "It was a source of concern as a mother because I knew he was in a dangerous place, but he chose that. When he left to do his training, I asked him to be amazing at what he did. I was surprised at his choice, but I was excited for him and he did a great job."
As part of her Teacher of the Year award, Flynn will receive $500 to devote to educational purposes.
Flynn is considering purchasing a portable keyboard to be used at various venues.
Right now, OMS doesn't have one, so she has to borrow the high school's whenever she needs it. "It would be nice to have one of our own," she said.
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.