GRAPEVINE, Texas, May 24, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Don Graves fought at Iwo Jima, one of the fiercest battles of World War II. He recalls seeing his fellow marines raise the American flag on Mount Suribachi, a moment captured in the now-iconic photograph. Victor Moiles was among thousands of U.S. soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge, the final major Nazi offensive against the Allied forces, fought in the winter of 1944-45 in the dense, snowy forests of Belgium's Ardennes region.
Stories like these are helping to bring World War II history to life for 60 students from Grapevine-Colleyville ISD (GCISD) today, as they board the American Airlines 757 yellow-ribbon aircraft, "Flagship Freedom," for a trip to Washington, D.C. The students will accompany a group of veterans for a day featuring inflight learning, interviews with veterans, and visits to important monuments, including the World War II Memorial, which 43 of the veterans will be seeing for the first time.
The trip is the culmination of the WWII Freedom Flight program, developed by GCISD in partnership with American Airlines and supported by the Fort Worth Airpower Foundation. The program is designed to give students a direct and enduring understanding of the connection between the rights and freedoms we enjoy today and the heroes whose sacrifices made them possible.
"The WWII Freedom Flight program has already exceeded our expectations as an educational experience for the students," said Dr. Robin Ryan, Superintendent of Grapevine-Colleyville ISD. "The feedback from teachers and administrators has been tremendous; every school in the district has been engaged in the program through classroom activity or student involvement with the competitions. We have already seen the bonds developing between the students and the veterans, and we know this will only strengthen during today's trip to Washington, D.C."
The 60 student ambassadors were selected for the trip from among more than 1,200 who submitted entries to two district-wide competitions held in March and April: a challenge coin design contest and an "Expressions of Freedom" competition that invited students to submit projects in various media illustrating how they would honor the nation's veterans. Ambassadors have specific assignments and duties associated with their role, and the overall experience is intended to provide a learning opportunity they will remember for a lifetime.
"The veterans participating in this trip will serve as the single best history lesson a student can ever experience," said Lisa Arpey, program leader of WWII Freedom Flight. "We hope that WWII Freedom Flight will help shape our students into self-directed, accountable young men and women who are motivated to do their best – not just because they are told to do so, but because they understand why they should."
The veterans and students ambassadors were honored during a community-wide "Celebration of Freedom Night" held the evening of May 9 at Grapevine High School. Special guest speakers included Medal of Honor recipient SSG (Ret.) Salvatore Giunta and Mary Eisenhower, President and CEO of People to People International. An overflow crowd of all ages gathered for the event, which also featured a parachute jump by SFC (Ret.) Dana Bowman, a former member of the U.S. Army Golden Knights elite military parachute team; a tandem jump by Golden Knight SFC Mike Elliott and GCISD's superintendent Dr. Robin Ryan; and musical performances by recording artists Steve Amerson, Matt Snook and Helene Cronin.
WWII Freedom Flight is designed to provide meaningful engagement in the classroom and community. The program encompasses a wide variety of elements and activities for students, including a social studies curriculum that aims to improve student literacy about the fundamentals of democracy. Future plans are to expand the WWII Freedom Flight program into other school districts across the nation.
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