Looking around the auditorium at MacArthur Middle School, Georgia Pickard asked the audience to recognize the sacrifices made by military children.
“We should support our fellow students as they quietly endure the hardship of their loved ones being far from home,” the seventh-grader said.
Georgia was among the speakers at the school’s first-ever Veterans Day Assembly. Service members, students, staff and parents gathered Nov. 11 for the hourlong program and reception.
The event launched the school’s partnership with Navy Information Operations Command Maryland as part of Fort Meade’s Partners in Education program.
In addition to a musical performance by the school’s concert band, the student-led assembly featured a guest speaker, Command Sgt. Maj. Edward Elliott Jr., the senior enlisted adviser at Headquarters Command Battalion.
The emcee, Student Government Association President Elijah Davis, welcomed the audience and introduced MacArthur’s Honors Chorus before its performance of the national anthem. Nasir Brockington, SGA vice president, led the “Pledge of Allegiance.”
The Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps of Meade High School posted the colors.
A Path to Success
In his speech, Elliott urged students to make good decisions in order to achieve future success.
“Students of MacArthur Middle School, I will ask you to make the right decision now so that you can reach your goals for tomorrow,” he said.
Elliott recounted his youth growing up in a single-parent household in a drug-infested neighborhood in Portsmouth, Va. As the oldest of six children, Elliott saw his mother work tirelessly to provide for their family.
“I saw my mother’s hard work, dedication and determination to provide for her family. [It] gave me the ability to see that failure was not an option,” Elliott said. “As a teenager, I realized I will not change the culture of my neighborhood, but I will not submit to the culture changing me.”
Elliott used his personal history to show how resilience in the face of hardship can lead to tremendous reward.
A family man with a bachelor’s degree in homeland security who has served in the Army for 24 years, Elliott said he is a “decorated leader, proud service member, husband, father and son.”
In her speech, Georgia reflected on the significance of Veterans Day.
“At MacArthur Middle School, we are very proud to recognize on this day — Nov. 11 — all of the veterans who are current military, retired or deceased,” she said.
Georgia asked veterans and service members to stand and be recognized as she read off the different branches of the military. Standing among them was World War II veteran Paul Booth.
Georgia also paid tribute to military families, including fellow students whose parents are deployed.
“We thank you for your commitment and sacrifice,” she said.
Following the speeches, Principal Eugene Whiting called for a moment of silence. He then welcomed eighth-grader Ty’quon Ricks to play “Taps” on the trumpet.
“What a proud principal I am today,” Whiting said. “I am proud to be the principal of a middle school located on a military installation with students who are so incredibly talented.”
A number of Sailors from NIOC attended the assembly. They are volunteers in Partners in Education, or PIE, Fort Meade’s mentorship program with Anne Arundel County Public Schools.
Service members and DoD civilians volunteer in schools to mentor, tutor and coach students and show support at school events. They dress in uniform during the hours they spend at their partner school.
The mission of PIE is to contribute military resources and services to schools in order to nurture the intellectual, emotional, social and physical growth of children in the Fort Meade community.
During the reception, Navy Chief Petty Officer Sarah Stewart, the command volunteer coordinator for NIOC, mingled with students.
“Today we are honored to be here and represent the armed forces,” she said. “It’s important for children to know they have a whole future ahead of them and because of the [service members in] the armed forces, they have options.”
NIOC joined the program at the request of the school liason officer at Army Child and Youth Services, said Stewart.
“Youth Services reached out to us to partner with MacArthur,” she said. “They requested that Sailors come out and get involved with the STEM program. We’re excited to be able to give that to them.”
Among the dozen NIOC Sailors who attended was Petty Officer 1st Class Jeff Kleppe.
“I wanted a chance to interact with students,” he said. “I grew up in Iowa and didn’t meet anyone in the military until a recruiter showed up. So I wanted to give kids a chance to meet a service member in uniform.”
Barbara Sanchez, the eighth-grade language arts teacher, hopes that partnering with NIOC and hosting military-centered events will help bridge the gap between the school and the installation.
“We felt disconnected from military families and we wanted to pull them in,” she said. “We wanted to do a Veterans Day Assembly, and will do one on Memorial Day, to strengthen our partnership with the installation.”
Sanzez, wife of retired Maj. Phillip Sanchez, manages the Department of Defense Education Activity grant at the school level. The DoDEA grant helped to support the success of the assembly.
This year MacArthur had a 5 percent increase in its enrollment of military students, one of the reasons for establishing annual military-themed events, said Sanchez.
Starting in January, she hopes that NIOC will provide mentorship for the boys of MacArthur.
“We would like them to hang out with the boys one day a week to play sports or do an activity,” Sanchez said. “The other day of the week they could tutor them.”
For Navy Petty Officer Jermaine White, the reason for attending the assembly was simple.
“We want to support our schools any way we can,” he said.