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Youngsters sing, learn about sacrifices and meaning of service

D. EVERETT SMITH JR./Sun-Gazette Correspondent The fourth-grade chorus at Loyalsock Valley Elementary School in Montoursville sang several songs in honor of veterans who served in the United States military.

The multipurpose room of Loyalsock Valley Elementary School, in the Montoursville Area School District, was crowded with children and family as, once again, the faculty, staff and students of the school honored veterans from all branches of the U.S. military Tuesday.

“We celebrate all of them,” Paula Pulizzi said.

Pulizzi, the technology teacher for both Loyalsock Valley and Lyter Elementary, has organized the event for the last several years. She said she did so to honor her father who served in the Army.

Many of the students and teachers wore clothes and ribbons with red, white and blue while hand-made decorations and tributes adorned the halls of the school. Pulizzi praised the faculty of Loyalsock Valley for working with the students. She explained that for the past month, children from grades kindergarten to fourth learned about the different branches of the military, as well as created decorations, thank-you cards, essays and a variety of projects.

“What amazes me is how much they know (about the military and American history) by the time they make it to fourth grade,” she said.

Pulizzi also recognized music teacher Jaclyn Gilbert for working with the students of the fourth-grade chorus as they sang such standards as “God Bless America” and “Taps.”

Pulizzi also credited school nurse Katrina Emick for “spearheading the decorations.” Specifically, Emick was able to gather the handprints of staff and faculty and students to make an American flag.

She said that in the next week, both students and teachers will be collecting money for the Honor Flight organization. Honor Flight is dedicated to taking veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit their respective war memorials.

During the program, veterans from the various branches and the various conflicts were applauded for their service.

Pulizzi introduced special speaker Rick Bressler, a local author, veteran and her cousin. Bressler recently wrote a book about a World War II pilot Captain Lawrence Ritter. Ritter was a test pilot with a distinguished service record. However, he crashed in a freak snowstorm in 1946 in Lock Haven.

“I was troubled no one knew about him,” Bressler said.

He said the goal of his book was to remind the world about Ritter’s service. He further explained that he hopes that the students of Loyalsock Valley would continue to study and learn about American history and American servicemen.

The program closed with the fourth-grade chorus singing, “If you love your country, thank a vet.” The went on to sing about “the price they paid and the sacrifice they made” and concluded with “Thank a vet.”

When the program concluded, several veterans were grateful to the school for hosting such an event, such as Marine Sergeant Jeff Schans, whose daughter is a second-grader named Julianna. He said the students “appreciation was heartfelt.”

Vietnam War Veteran Army Spc. James Stephens said he was “touched” by the program especially seeing his grandson Wyatt Hamilton, a fourth-grader in Kristin Albaugh’s class, perform a solo on stage. Wyatt Hamilton said he was “glad to be a part of the program.”

Faculty member Albaugh said that programs like this are important not only for the veterans but for the students. “These brave men and women provide our kids a sense of hope and security. They have learned what it means to serve and be involved in helping others. It becomes a lesson in being a part of something bigger than ourselves,” Albaugh said.

Another parent, Army Staff Sergeant Curtis Twigg, said that this event has become a yearly tradition for him. “I have a daughter in seventh grade and my son (also named Curtis who is in fourth grade), so this has become a yearly event. A lot of schools don’t do something like this,” Twigg said.

Twigg’s brother-in-law, Army Lieutenant Dennis Zaitsev, said he was amazed by the program and “was surprised at how much the kids were taught.”

Third-grader Michael Zellers Jr. was excited to have his father in attendance.

“It is great to see the vets appreciated and to learn about what they experienced,” the older Zellers said.

Other veteran grandparents mentioned their satisfaction with the program. Air Force Tech Sergeant Jeff Vogel, grandfather of students Sawyer and Emmett Vogel, called the event “fantastic.”

Army Spc. Steve Bender, the grandfather of third grader Emerson Metzger, was impressed with all who were in attendance and Emerson Metzger said she was glad to have her grandfather there.

Another teacher said he enjoyed the program.

“I think it was awesome,” Kevin Carl said. Carl is a Navy vet as well as the coding teacher at Loyalsock Valley Elementary.

When the presentation concluded, school principal Amy Breon, praised the veterans for their service and Pulizzi for organizing the event. She said that this being her first year as the principal of Loyalsock Valley, she was excited to experience the event. She called it “an emotional celebration for all.”

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