Reston resident and retired Army Colonel B.J. Silvey approached Ken Plum, his state delegate, at a church one Sunday. He told Plum about initiatives in other states to encourage schools to recognize their veterans, and he wanted to know what Virginia schools do.
After checking on it, Plum decided that Virginia lacked any such directives. The conversation between him and Silvey turned into a bill (HB 3201) and then a law that gives guidance to schools in Virginia to hold Veterans Day programs.
"When we talk about Veterans Day and preservation of freedom, we talk about fundamentals of democracy," said Plum, addressing Government students at South Lakes High School on Friday morning, Nov. 9. He asked Silvey to repeat a part of his testimony to the politicians in Richmond.
"If it hadn’t been for the service of our veterans, I probably wouldn’t be speaking to you here today," said Silvey.
"The fact that the bill originated with the Colonel [Silvey] and your teacher here, that’s very powerful," said South Lakes principal Bruce Butler. He added that South Lakes always recognizes its students at graduation who move on to pursue military endeavors — such as students entering military academies. "We feel they are taking on an extra burden," said Butler. He also announced that the school is dedicating space, and has plans, for a Wall of Honor, which will recognize former South Lakes students who died while serving in the military.
ALEX TURNER and Bob Smith, veterans and government teachers at South Lakes, organized a lesson connecting a Veterans Day commemoration at the school with a lesson on the importance of participating in the political process.
Turner pointed out the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day at the beginning of the lesson, saying that Veterans Day recognizes those that served the nation and survived. He made the distinction because he felt it was important to understand what service is. "It’s about the people and the service, not about the conflict," he said.
As for the participatory side, state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32) said the voter turnout in the Nov. 6 election was disgraceful. "When you think that people have given up so much for us to have those [voting] rights," said Howell, addressing the students. "I am hoping your generation will be a whole lot better than mine" in participating and contacting elected officials. Both Howell and Plum shared that the bills they introduce in the General Assembly come from constituents who call them, write them or talk to them in the grocery store.
South Lakes senior Keenen Collins said the lesson was an eye-opener for him. "I never thought I could have such an effect" on the process.
Tenth grader Yoan Nkomba said that despite everything people hear about politics, the politicians make themselves available to hear citizens’ concerns.
Turner said there would be a scavenger hunt for the students next week to find the veterans among the school staff.