Memorial Day is many things—the harbinger of summer, a day off from school, and a time for picnics and parades—but oftentimes, activities meant to celebrate the holiday forget the meaning of Memorial Day. How could I help my students understand that Memorial Day is really about remembering those who sacrificed their lives for their country?
Connecting to History
As an educator, I'm always trying to find ways to make history resonate with my students. So when I heard about the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund (MMHF) flag planting tribute on the Boston Common, I thought this would be a great opportunity for my students to appreciate and relate to the meaning of Memorial Day. Each year, MMHF and hundreds of volunteers create a majestic garden of flags on Boston Common for Memorial Day weekend, and I wanted my students to be a part of it.
The flag planting is both a community-building event and a tribute to lost military lives. Through my local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, I was able to sign up my school's Culture Club to take part. I invited our Army JROTC to attend with us, and side by side with hundreds of volunteers, we helped plant 37,000 flags at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the Boston Common. Each flag represents every brave Massachusetts service member who, since the Revolutionary War, gave his or her life to defend our country.
Showing Respect and Reverence
This Memorial Day activity has become a tradition for the students at my school. Because they understand that each flag they plant represents a human life, they always handle this task with reverence and respect. They work quietly in pairs, one student marking and making the hole for the flag, and the other gently planting it. It's remarkable how quickly the garden comes to life, as each fluttering flag that cascades down the hill on the Boston Common becomes part of an explosion of red, white, and blue. Many of my students return over the weekend with their families so they can see the display and show respect for those who gave their lives for our country.
Participating in the flag garden is an experience that truly touches my students. "Being able to plant the flags in honor of our soldiers was an amazing experience," Francine, a junior, told me. "People don't often take time to recognize the sacrifice these heroes and their families made for our country. I was grateful to be able to show my appreciation."
Helping Students Remember the Meaning
For teachers who are outside the Boston area, there are still plenty of options to help your students find the meaning of Memorial Day. If you have grounds that are suitable for a display, you could create a flag garden at your school. You could honor graduates who lost their lives for our country—public records could provide an exact number—or you could simply create a flag garden to commemorate the holiday.
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If you want to embrace the community-building aspect of Memorial Day, find out if there are any Memorial Day activities taking place in your area and share the list with your students so they can attend and pay their respects with their families. Your school could also conduct a school-wide assembly to pay tribute to those who have served our country.
It's easy to bring Memorial Day appreciation into the classroom as well. Social studies and English teachers can create lesson plans that explain the history and significance of the holiday, or use writing prompts to ask students to reflect upon its true meaning.
While the flag planting on the Boston common has become a tradition for the students at my school, there are many ways to help your students understand the meaning of Memorial Day.