The Pledge of Allegiance is meant to evoke patriotism, remembrance and loyalty.
Students across the nation speak the phrases before school each day, many placing their hands over their hearts, but the memorized words have become routine and meaningless for some. An initiative at McPherson Middle School this year hopes to rekindle a sense of pride in and connection to the country's military.
The Flag of Honor initiative was started this fall by social studies teacher Beth Wash. Every morning before the Pledge of Allegiance, a student announces over the intercom a featured military person. These individuals, who are either currently serving or have served in the past, are directly connected to MMS students.
Listed are their names, ranks, where or how they served, and their relationship to McPherson, whether that be a sibling, cousin or grandparent. As they turn toward the red and white stripes, the students' pledges are in honor of that military personnel.
“I've noticed they're pretty attentive,” Wash said. “The point is they're making connection to a specific person in the community. I think they take the pledge a little more seriously because they can make that connection.”
Students, faculty and staff have been submitting names throughout the semester, so much so that Wash has had to explain it might take time for their featured individual to be announced.
“It's been an overwhelming response,” she said.
One family responded with the name of their relative who was serving in Afghanistan at the time. Martha and Tim Leaf — whose children are sixth-grader Maggie and eighth-grader Paxton — honored Martha's cousin, Scott Barr, a member of the Air National Guard.
When Barr heard about the Flag of Honor project at MMS, he was so touched that he asked to fly a flag in honor of the school. It was flown aboard a U.S. Air Force A-10C Warthog on Sept. 11 at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. When he returned to the states in October, he surprised the Leafs with his own flag of honor.
The flag, which is expected to be displayed at MMS sometime this year, is a visual symbol of the connection the middle school students are making to real people.
“What touched me is our kids in McPherson are so into the superstardom of performers and athletes, that this was a different turn to honor a group of people that, as a whole, are really humble folks doing a really important job,” Martha said. “It's not only stories they hear about on the news, but real people who are involved in the protection of the U.S.”
The idea for the Flag of Honor initiative came from a conference Wash attended in Texas.
The teacher thought it would be a good way to tie in the district's Citizenship, College and Career Readiness initiative.
“My patriotism is very important to me,” she said. “Teaching history and geography, I understand the importance of the sacrifices (the military) makes, and I want to make sure (the students) understand that, although the wars are far away, they really affect our communities. I have seen kids go into the military, and I want them to understand it's an option and an important role.”