MADISON, NY - Thank you. It’s a small sentence that can make a big difference in any context of life.
That especially holds true in the Madison Central School District during the second week of November. After operating on a limited scale in 2020 due to pandemic protocols, students and staff have come back in force to say “Thank You” and celebrate veterans as part of the district’s Veterans’ Day festivities.
The celebration is supported in a variety of ways throughout the district, including one initiative that has taken on tremendous gravity in the community at large.
Since 2008, 7th and 8th grade students in Brian Merkt’s history classes have used the Veteran’s Day week to learn a firsthand lesson in gratitude, and why it can mean so much to those who have put their lives on the line in defense of the nation. Each year, Mr. Merkt’s classes take the time to author “Thank You” cards for military veterans who hold ties to the MCS community.
The project was created in part by former MCS high school principal Lenny Giardino, while retired MCS staff members Mary Hewitt and Maveret Umstead assisted in maintaining address records to ensure the cards went to the right place.
The magnitude of the project has been immense. At its humble beginnings, the students wrote 65 cards and sent them to a list obtained from the local American Legion. Very little was known about most of the veterans on that first list. Some sent back details about their service, and the following year, the classes made it their mission to learn as much as they could about each one.
As the knowledge grew, so did the mailing list. The number of cards hit close to 100 by 2012. Each year, some get added, and others unfortunately are subtracted. This year, the students sent 87 of them.
Throughout the life of this initiative, the cards have become more than an opportunity to express gratitude. They have become an incredible living history project for students, and an opportunity to create a treasured community connection with local veterans.
Many veterans have written back to express their gratitude. Some of the recipients have asked to meet with our students directly to share their stories and their appreciation. Some others have written back stories of their time in the Armed Forces. Some of the veterans have even included artifacts, such as a flag that was carried on a mission in Afghanistan, or a Safe Conduct Certificate that allowed for peaceful surrender during the Korean War.
Some have said this is the only time they have ever been formally thanked for their service and sacrifice. Their wives and families have written to MCS when their veterans have passed away, and many of those notes included a “thank you” back from the people closest to the veterans, in recognition that their loved one’s service was not forgotten.
“The most powerful lesson that this project could ever teach an MCS student is about the power of “Thank You,” Merkt said.
That spirit of gratitude has routinely been echoed throughout the building.
In addition to the thank you cards, MCS also began doing a veterans breakfast in 2008. The current iteration of that event is the donut drive-thru, held on Wednesday, November 10th.
Largely driven by our elementary staff and students, the donut drive-thru offers an opportunity to thank veterans in person. Local veterans pulled into the MCS parking lot that morning to receive a donut, and other tokens of appreciation put together by the MCS community. While some students and staff served donuts, others held up signs expressing their gratitude. Our students even made a special home delivery to a nearby veteran!
Elementary and secondary students have traditionally performed a musical program during the breakfast as well. In the current format, students, under the direction of Mrs. Winegard, did a recorded performance which is available here. Our hope is that the performance will return to its traditional format at the breakfast in future years.