Pascack Valley Regional High School Military Tribute
by Kathryn Coulibaly
As Bergen County’s 2019-20 Teacher of the Year, Leah Jerome, a history teacher at Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale, visited schools in Bergen County. Inspired by the living history exhibits of former students currently serving in the military or who had previously served, Jerome began thinking of ways to honor service members and veterans while connecting students to the impact of this service.
“Many schools I’ve visited have done an incredible job of honoring their veterans,” Jerome said. “In particular, New Milford High School and Hackensack High School had great exhibits for their service members and veterans. I reached out to the educators responsible for guidance and counselling.
Working with the Pascack Valley High School History Club, which started in the fall of 2020, Jerome consulted with students to develop a roster of active duty members in time for this year’s Veterans Day activities.
“They collected the photos and names of active duty personnel and created an exhibit,” Jerome said. “It was a wonderful start, but in our minds we thought it wasn’t complete. We wanted a permanent exhibit and we wanted to extend it to veterans and fallen service members.
Student engagement the secret to success
As the scope of the project grew, Jerome knew she would need district buy-in and a budget. But the real secret of its success lies in the commitment and determination of its students.
“This project is really about the students,” said Jerome. “They live in the community, they have connections and they know where to go to get the information we needed. No one had a complete list of veterans who served in the military. Thanks to the support and leadership of several students who took this project and made it their own, we were able to present a cohesive and well-conceived plan to the administration who worked with us to designate a prominent location in the building. with lots of traffic so people will see it. »
Jerome and the students worked with the school’s facilities manager, Robert Donahue, to create an architectural plan. He helped with logistics and helped develop the scale and dimensions of the photo wall while Jerome and the students worked to hang the photos. Other staff stepped in to help, including custodial staff who painted the wall.
Hipp Grant helps fund the Service Member Wall
Pascack Valley High School’s parent faculty organization provided some funding. To help fund the rest of the project, Jerome applied for an NJEA Frederick L. Hipp Grant for Excellence in Education Foundation. Hipp grants are awarded annually to innovative projects that meet a need in the community and can range from $550 to $10,000. Jerome’s $2,500 grant application was selected and allowed Jerome’s students to create the project they envisioned and honor service members as they wished.
Jerome’s scholarship was designated as the Jack Bertolino scholarship for its emphasis on social studies and civics. Bertolino was a beloved NJEA director, staff member, and teacher who passed away in 2019. He also served in the military in the 1950s, which makes this grant even more meaningful to those who knew him.
“The people who support and encourage you are part of the success of educator projects,” said Jerome. “I definitely got it from the people who administer the Hipp grant. I strongly urge anyone with an idea for a project to learn more about the Hipp Grant Program and apply.
Tribute to all veterans who served
Once funding was secured, the biggest challenge in building the project was developing accurate rosters. No one wanted to leave anyone out, but there was no complete list of former students who had served in the military. Some graduates may have entered the military after graduation, but others may have enlisted years after graduation. It took almost a year to contact the community, teachers and alumni to ensure the list was accurate. The next step was to add images, which was another major project and one that the History Club was good at pursuing.
“When we learn a new name, we add their photo as soon as possible,” Jerome said. “We started with 30 and now we are closer to 50.”
The display includes active duty personnel, veterans and fallen heroes. It reads left to right and the title reads: Dedicated to Pascack Valley Alumni. A TV screen has been added that scrolls the names of veterans.
The history club is also working on a website so those outside the school building can see which names are included and help identify any that might be missing from the list.
Jérôme is eager to continue developing the project. In addition to updating the wall as new elders enter the service or identify other service members, she would like to develop this into an oral history project.
“The goal is to honor our veterans and their experiences, while humanizing history for our students,” Jerome said. “The ability to connect students to history gives them something they can never get out of a textbook.”
Memorial Day program remembers fallen heroes
Jerome and the students also organize a Memorial Day program to honor fallen service members.
“We hold a memorial service and read about each fallen hero in the yard before school,” Jerome said. “It’s important for all of us to stop and reflect on their sacrifice.”
Jerome gives the students much of the credit for the success of this project.
“The students wanted to own it and now, collectively, it’s a legacy that everyone in this district can share,” Jerome said. “Anyone who walks past this wall or visits the website can see what we’ve built together to honor our service members and it’s a source of pride for all of us.”
As a history teacher, Jérôme studies the military and understands the historical context. She said it is a unifying opportunity for students and staff from all walks of life, a place where everyone can step back and say thank you to active military personnel, veterans and fallen heroes.
“That wall will be there long after I’m gone,” Jerome said. “This project is a legacy of the History Club of which I am proud. We hope this will inspire our school community and show our gratitude to our former students who have chosen the path of service. »
Kathryn Coulibaly is the associate editor of NJEA journal and provides content and support for njea.org. She can be reached at [email protected]
Apply for an NJEA Hipp Grant
NJEA Frederick L. Hipp for Excellence in Education Foundation grants help educators bring creative ideas to life. The only foundation of its kind in New Jersey, the Hipp Foundation supports initiatives to promote good ideas, whether they come from teachers, secretaries, custodians, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, cafeteria staff or any other member of the school community.
More than $2.3 million in grants for innovative educational projects that represent a bold, new approach to public school employees have already been awarded. Apply for a Hipp grant and bring your innovative ideas to life. The annual deadline is March 1. Grants range from $500 to $10,000.
Learn more at njea.org/hipp.
NJEA Patriot Alliance
In 2017, the NJEA created the Patriots Alliance, a coalition of NJEA members who served in the armed forces and now work in public education.
The alliance now has more than 200 members. It helps to inform veterans of their rights and benefits under the law and to advocate for their specific interests. Additionally, members of the NJEA Patriots Alliance are available to speak at schools and provide valuable information about careers in the military.
Learn more about the NJEA Patriots Alliance at njea.org/patriots.