Several Payson High School writing classes got a strong dose of reality Friday when they met with a group of Veterans who live at Ponderosa Manor/Veterans Helping Veterans.
The visit by three of PHS teacher Simone Lake's writing classes was the culmination of a week-long unit on veterans leading up to the observance of Veterans Day.
"So many young people don't really have a firm grasp of the concept," Lake said. "My father was in the Air Force, so I know what a veteran is, but a lot of students don't."
As part of the unit, several veterans visited Lake's classes to speak to students and answer questions. Her students also wrote letters of thanks to give to the veterans and made signs and banners to hang in the home at 212 W. Wade Lane.
As each class arrived at the home Friday, they were greeted by several veterans who talked briefly about the realities of serving in the armed forces.
"I enjoyed it, and I was honored to serve," said Randi "Red" Berry, who was in the U.S. Air Force for 14 years. "If you join the military, I can guarantee you will have an adventure, and there is a bond that develops with your fellow soldiers that is incredibly strong. I wouldn't give up one day of that experience for anything, but you pay a price. Young people are asked to give up a lot to protect our country."
In his letter to the veterans, freshman Ben Tackett equated freedom to happiness.
"It is simple," he wrote, "but I am sure that it was not that simple for you, you know, actually fighting and everything. I am sure that war is horrible."
Another student, junior Terri Pete wrote, "As a teenager in the U.S., I've never really experienced anything like you have, but now after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, I have a little more of an idea what you were fighting for."
Lake said the unit not only allowed her students to gain a new appreciation of the contributions veterans have made, but also served as an especially relevant writing exercise. Perhaps most important, several of the six pillars of character that are the foundation of the Character Counts! program were incorporated into the unit.
Character Counts!, which is being implemented throughout the Payson Unified School District, is part of an initiative by Arizona Governor Jane Hull to provide a voluntary, nonpartisan, nonreligious based character education training program throughout the state. PUSD, which initiated a pilot program last year, is one of the first school districts in the state to introduce the program.
It was established to raise awareness of the need to teach and model core values that are acceptable to liberals and conservatives as well as to secular and faith-based communities. These core values, known as the "Six Pillars of Character," are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.
The goal is to immerse the six pillars into every aspect of the school program, including both curricular and noncurricular activities.
"Probably the pillars that we found most closely related to the veterans are character, citizenship, caring and respect," Lake said.
A key component to the success of the program is to get the entire community involved and using the same terminology in talking about character traits. The veterans the students met did just that, as several commented on the priceless value of American citizenship as well as the importance of character and respect.
Berry touched on the important role a community plays in the education process when she said to the students, "You will learn things today that your teachers can't teach you."
Ponderosa Manor manager Misti Isley told Lake's students that the home receives no government support and can use donations of all kinds, including money, food and clothing.
"Our biggest need is money, but we never turn anything down," Isley said.