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Vets praise MES students for patriotic program

Students Noah Ray, Ian Doyle, Trey Dugger, Connor Altman, Colby Hapgood and Easton Stevens recreate the iconic image of US Marines planting a flag after the Battle of Iwo Jima.Second and third graders at Macclenny Elementary saluted veterans with a 45-minute program the morning of November 9 featuring patriotic songs and re-enactments of iconic moments in American history.

The event was a first for Dwayne Norman, one of many current and retired service men and women in the audience.

The medically retired Navy veteran’s daughter attends the north Macclenny school. “It was a great program,” said Mr. Norman. “It meant a lot to me and a lot of other people; more than words can say.”

Third graders packed the stage and flanked both sides, occasionally mounting a stage set up in front of the crowd to perform historic scenes like the Marines raising the American flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Second graders, meanwhile, sat with the audience and helped sing along to tunes, including God Bless America by Lee Greenwood, the show’s finale.

“I always teach the second graders the music, because it makes the sound fill the room, but I cannot fit that many kids on the stage,” said Macclenny Elementary music teacher Kinita Bishop, who orchestrated the program. “It gives them something to look forward to next year.”

Also in the audience was Clay Green of Macclenny, who’s spent the last 19 years in the Air Force and visits the school each year for the veterans program.

He said this year’s show — with students acting out scenes that also included first responders on 9-11 and the Fallen Soldier combat memorial — was “the greatest one yet.”

“It was awesome,” he said while holding his 4-year-old daughter Carlie in his arms.

After he and other vets in the cafeteria were asked to stand in recognition, the students, led by Tiffany Thomas, not only sang the words to You Are Our Heroes, they signed them, too.

“The students practiced singing and memorizing music in music class only, which is 25 minutes every six school days,” explained Ms. Bishop, who tutors students in other subjects as well.

“The actors practiced for a few minutes on the early out days,” she said. “We all practiced together on the stage for the first time two days before the show. We did a dress rehearsal the day before and invited the first graders to come and watch. The total amount of time they spent practicing was about 4 and 1/2 hours.”

For the music teacher, the highlight was seeing the children performing together as a group, rather than as individuals. “You saw a unit of performers who are serious about what they are doing and the message they are conveying,” Ms. Bishop said.

“I also loved surprising a child with her father’s voice on a CD, because she had no idea that we had that message from him to her and the veterans in the audience,” she said, referencing a voice message from Luke Lauramore to his daughter Sierra that was played between songs.

“He went from Macclenny to Fort Hood in October and has been sent to Afghanistan,” said Ms. Bishop. “Sierra’s teacher, Abbey Woods, got in touch with Sierra’s parents and asked them if it would be possible for him to send a message to her for our veterans program. When the family returned from visiting dad at Fort Hood, mom sent that to us with Sierra, but she had absolutely no idea what was on it.”

School principal Debbie Fraser and Superintendent Sherrie Raulerson both had kind words for the music teacher to close the program.

“She does an outstanding job with our students,” commented Ms. Fraser. “ ... Without her, we could not put on a performance like this.”

Ms. Raulerson added that the Veterans Day program, which brought her to tears, was the best she’d ever seen.

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