Donning a patriotic
American flag tie, 5th-grade teacher Danny Derden had a mission – to
teach every student at Godwin Elementary the meaning behind Memorial Day.
After transforming a
classroom into a military memorabilia exhibit and memorial, Derden welcomed
students from every class and grade level to show them that the holiday is more
than just barbecue cookouts and a day off from school.
“It’s important to
teach them what Memorial Day is all about,” said Derden, who served in the Air
Force branch of the military before becoming a teacher. “The students have a
general idea about service, but they need to know that Memorial Day comes at a great
cost. It’s to remember and honor those veterans who have died. This is
different from Veteran’s Day.”
Derden organized a
schedule for the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend to allow every class in
school to visit the presentation.
“I used to do this
same thing for years when I taught at Lacy,” Derden said. “When we were
discussing how to handle Memorial Day this year, they asked if I could do this
kicked off with a somber, informational PowerPoint. In addition to showing that
Memorial Day has been designated as the last Monday in May since 1971, the
students were able to see images from the National Cemetery, as well as videos
from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“They need to see
that when people visit these landmarks, it should be about silence and respect
to honor the sacrifice these soldiers made for them,” Derden said. “This might
sound strange, but the National Cemetery is my favorite place to visit.”
The video also featured the 21-gun
salute and the constant guard of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“When they are shooting the howitzers
as part of the salute, they are facing the tomb, which honors the memories of
soldiers they were unable to identify, honestly, because they were probably blown
to bits,” Derden candidly told the students. He provides these details to teach
the reality of the sacrifice the men and women serving in the military are
asked to make.
Following the video,
the students were invited to tour the room, much like a visit to a museum. The
exhibit featured everything from uniforms and commendations to personal and
historic photos and a signed football card.
“I like to show this
trading card signed by Chad Jennings,” Derden said of the former Dallas Cowboy
who previously served in the military. “Chad Jennings played for the Air Force
Falcons before becoming a Dallas Cowboy. He signed this trading card when I was
stationed at the Air Force Academy, and he’d stopped by to visit.”
Derden pointed out
two particularly special photos featuring two different boot camp classes. He
was on the top row in one picture, and his wife, Cherie Derden, who works at
Lacy Elementary and also served in the military, was in the top row of the
“I think it’s pretty
cool that we are both in the exact same spot in our boot camp photos,” he said.
It’s evident that
Derden is passionate about the military and its role to protect the citizens of
the United States as he prides himself in being able to share a part of history
with the students.
“I have a lot of
interesting stories about everything in here,” Derden said. “And I’m glad to be
able to help the students understand what all this means.”