Membership Notes, July/August 2014
Engaging Students Constructively
BY RICHARD CURREY
Veterans have been visiting schools for years. Educational theory says that the personal stories of veterans bring war and service to life for students who otherwise often plod through dry textbook summaries.
But such events can easily go awry. John Hoober, Education Committee chair for Chapter 1008 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, participated in one such school visit. “It was a disaster,” he said. “One guy talked about drugs in Namand how he was high all the time. Another took forty-five minutes to tell his story, denying other vets the opportunity to speak. Most importantly, there was no time for kids to ask questions. The entire event was an embarrassment.”
An Army veteran who served with the 1st Logistical Command in Vietnam, Hoober considered how a chapter’s school visit might be effective, accurate, and respectful to the war itself and the contributions of those who served. “Could we show how history translated to daily life for the troops? We needed to offer students information they don’t learn in class, and let them engage with vets in a constructive way.”
Hoober met with Chapter 1008 leadership, including President Warren Kimmel and VP Bill Daley. “My first recommendation was to restrict participation to chapter members.” Hoober said. “We not only have a strong chapter with committed leadership, but there’s a wide range of experience in the chapter. All branches and all kinds of service are represented, giving us the necessary resources for excellent educational outreach.”
Hoober got the green light. He recruited participants who, together, could bring a wide-angle picture of the Vietnam War and those who served. “After we got a yes from the first school we approached, a few of us visited teachers whose classes were studying the war,” he said. “We took books and maps and shared our plan. Maybe the most important thing we did was suggest that students think about questions they wanted to ask ahead of time.”
When presentation day came, Hoober was “on pins and needles. We’d done our homework. But I still worried we’d flop.”
He needn’t have worried. Chapter 1008’s first presentation was a ringing success.
“Careful preparation made the difference,” Hoober said. “We were organized, and the questions we got were substantial, questions about Agent Orange, where we went in-country, how we were treated when we came home. We got very positive overall feedback.”
The outreach team visited a second school and met with similar success, evidenced by the teacher who sent Hoober an email: “Yesterday was hands down one of the best learning days in my teaching career. Please stop by next week, as my students have a card for you.”
That card was filled with glowing messagesnotes of appreciation and praise crowding into every corner. Hoober laughed: “There was one complainteverybody wished we had more time to share with them.”
Hoober hopes to bring the program to five area schools in 2015. And to keep going from there. He foresees the possibility that Chapter 1008’s outreach might serve as a model for other chapters interested in creating successful Vietnam veteran presentations in schools.
“This has been a genuinely moving experience,” he said. “We may be on to something that can make a difference for kids and teachers alike. I salute our chapter officers and membership for helping this very special effort take flight.”
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