Forty high school juniors in the Grapevine-Colleyville school district will get a once-in-a-lifetime experience in March to travel to New Orleans with World War II veterans to visit the National WWII Museum.
The trip March 1-3 is part of the Gary Sinise Foundation’s Soaring Valor program in partnership with The National WWII Museum and American Airlines. Each student will be paired with a WWII veteran, who also will be accompanied by a caregiver.
“You can read about history in the textbooks, but hearing about it from the veterans is a completely different experience,” said Christopher Chwa, Grapevine High School junior and one of the students chosen for the program.
Suzanne Newell, GCISD director of humanities, said students were selected for Soaring Valor based on an essay they wrote in U.S. history classes about the role of Americans in serving around the world and preserving freedom. Juniors could elect to have their essay considered for the trip and could add a personal letter to a World War II veteran.
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Eighteen students each from Colleyville Heritage and Grapevine high schools and four from the Collegiate Academy were chosen. District officials announced the winners in special Veterans Day assemblies.
Amanda Ringo, Colleyville Heritage junior, said her name was the last one called during the school assembly. Her reaction?
“I started bawling,” Ringo said. “Most kids, their heroes are sports stars or celebrities. My heroes are people who fought in World War II.”
Newell said the program came to Grapevine-Colleyville schools because of a connection to American Airlines. Tricia Palmersheim, a fifth-grade teacher at Grapevine Elementary School, is married to Jim Palmersheim, director of veterans and military programs for American Airlines, himself an Army veteran.
Five years ago, a similar program with the district called Freedom Flight allowed a small number of students to travel to Washington, D.C., with WWII vets to see the World War II Memorial. Newell said this program is much bigger.
More students get to go on the trip, and the National WWII Museum is offering extra enrichment opportunities for students throughout the district. A few months ago, the museum sent the district footlockers with original newspaper accounts, yearbooks and artifacts carried by soldiers.
Newell said that “Operation Footlocker” targeted middle school students, especially eighth-graders who study America’s role in World War II. The materials came with special white gloves for students to wear while handling items so they wouldn’t damage them.
District officials also are having a Challenge Coin Design Contest for fifth-graders. Military units often have challenge coins to commemorate an event. Educators are finalizing the winner of the contest, Newell said.
On Feb. 28, a community kick-off for the Soaring Valor trip will be held at Grapevine High School, with World War II veterans, local dignitaries and representatives of American Airlines and the Gary Sinise Foundation in attendance.
Newell said the Challenge Coin artwork would be on display at the event.
Both Chwa and Ringo are looking forward to the trip.
For Chwa, who is interested in joining the Air Force, it will be his first trip to New Orleans.
“There’s nothing we can do to ever thank them enough,” Chwa said.
Ringo aspires to attend the U.S. Naval Academy.
“I strive to be like the soldiers and citizens they were,” Ringo said.