Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Celebrating Veterans

More than 120 U.S. military veterans from Spring Branch were honored Nov. 11 by students and staff at Spring Forest Middle School during the annual Veterans Day Celebration held at the west Houston campus.

Since its start 13 years ago with about 40 veterans, Spring Forest Middle’s event has grown into one of the area’s largest student salutes to all those who have and continue to serve our nation.

This year’s celebration included remarks from U.S. Air Force Capt. Charles Berry and Texas Rep. Jim Murphy of House District 133. A highlight was a donation of 14,000 toiletries, snack foods and other items from students to the local nonprofit group Operation Interdependence, which ships donated items to U.S. military and family members, both overseas and at home.

Spring Forest Middle students and PTA hosted a morning breakfast for veterans and their families, followed by a program with recognition of each veteran in the school’s gymnasium. The veterans entered the gymnasium to sustained applause from hundreds of Spring Forest Middle students that lasted until all 120 veterans were seated in procession.

Heritage Texas Properties on Memorial Drive has been event sponsor for several years now.

“We had our first Veterans Day program in 2001, just two months after the 9/11 tragedy. That first year, we didn’t know if anyone would come. We left word of the program with local churches and by word of mouth,” counselor Jana Gwinn said.

“We honored approximately 40 veterans. Our program has steadily grown each year, and we outgrew breakfast in the library. Our entire staff is great, and many of us now hear that we have to do Veterans Day.”
Word of mouth and popularity about Spring Forest’s event reached local media.

This year, KPRC-TV 2 opened its morning news program with reporter Ruben Galvan interviewing Principal Kaye Williams and student speakers. Galvan is a Northbrook High School graduate. He was impressed with the school event and students. “You have the right energy!” he told students.

Fox 26 TV reporter Andrea Watkins also conducted interviews and filmed area military veterans during the school breakfast and procession into the gymnasium.

After three sons and nine years of breakfast volunteering, Spring Forest Middle PTA’s Jennifer Bradshaw has the buffet set up down – 45 casseroles, 20 gallons of fruit, dozens of breakfast muffins and barrels of Starbucks coffee.

Kelly Boas says the group stretches a $1,000 budget a long way. “It’s a well-oiled machine and a very popular event,” she says. “It’s such a great community event, people want to help. They want to be a part of this!”

Mrs. Boas, Kimberly Ford and Betsy Snapp were PTA liaisons for the event. The celebration has a Veterans Day Committee working behind the scenes, too.

Several students served as program and event hosts. They included Ashley Barrett, president of the Spring Forest Middle Student Council; Sarah Lawlis, president of the National Jr. Honor Society (NJHS); Thomas Suess, vice president of Student Council; and Bayle Goldman and Taran Morford, NJHS co-vice presidents.

Cadets with the district Naval Jr. ROTC program at the Guthrie Center presented the colors. The Spring Forest Middle orchestra, band and choir performed songs. Band Director Joshua Ritchie, a unit bugler in the Reserve 395th Army Band, led students in uniform as he has in previous years.

Rep. Jim Murphy presented a U.S. flag flown over the Texas Capitol to campus leaders and students. During his remarks, he encouraged students to read all four song verses of “The Star Spangled Banner,” noting the beautiful freedom story it tells.

Capt. Berry, the event guest speaker, credited his mother and incredible teachers, including a Jr. ROTC officer, with helping him survive a tough neighborhood in Decatur, Ga., near Atlanta.

He serves today as a requirements specialist at San Antonio’s Randolph Air Force Base. In his role, he coordinates international training and education requirements for both Air Force and international partners.

“To be your best, you need education and you need training. Several instructors I had encouraged me to go to college. You can attend college, too, even if military life is not for you,” Capt. Berry said.

Also attending the event were Superintendent of Schools Duncan F. Klussmann, Ed.D., SBISD Board of Trustees President Pam Goodson, and Trustees Katherine Dawson, Wayne Schaper, Sr., and Chris Vierra. 

Several other SBISD campuses held separate campus observances on Veterans Day, too.


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