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Elementary School Program Helps Students Listen, Learn From Veterans

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Veterans Chet Baranowski, left, and Jim Leviness speak to the fourth-graders in teacher Carrie Mayer’s classroom last Thursday during the annual Take a Vet to School Day program at Columbus Elementary School in Mount Pleasant.

In 1965, Chet Baranowski didn’t have a choice whether he would go to the military or not. More than a half-century ago, during the Vietnam War, it was one of the periods in American history where young men at that time were eligible to be conscripted into the service.

Baranowski would spend two years in the Army, the second of which was in Vietnam.

That wasn’t lost on Columbus Elementary School fourth-grader Jacob Gomez, who with his classmates in teacher Carrie Mayer’s classroom, listened last week to Baranowski, a Pleasantville resident, and another veteran, Jim Leviness of Yonkers, talk about their experiences serving in the military.

“They had to say goodbye to their families,” Gomez said. “It was sad but they had to go. They had no choice.”

Baranowski and Leviness were among 65 veterans who came to Columbus Elementary last Thursday as part of the school’s seventh annual Take a Vet to School Day, a program held around Veterans Day where the guests speak to third- to fifth-grade students about what their time serving the nation.

The program was the idea of teacher Christine Galbo, who approached Principal Michael Cunzio and staff about eight years about its value. Cunzio said the program is consistent with the school’s and the district’s mission of creating a culture of community service and giving back to your school, community and country. Part of that is honoring and learning from veterans.

“It’s obviously something that we feel very strongly about, and it’s a tradition that we want to keep on going with and providing that opportunity for students to know what’s going on in our country,” Cunzio said.

While Leviness did have a choice – he enlisted in the Army in 1980 at the time when more than 50 Americans were being held hostage in the U.S. embassy in Iran for 444 days – he tries to relay to students some of the advantages of military service.

The opportunity to learn a valuable and marketable trade, travel the world, which helps an American appreciate their home country, and, of course, giving back and doing one’s patriotic duty are all benefits, Leviness said.

He was impressed by the students’ engagement and gratitude.

Staff and students honor about 65 veterans who participated in last week’s Take a Vet to School Day event at Columbus Elementary School.

“When I see these kids, and they’re very appreciative, and I don’t know how many other schools are doing it throughout the country, I think it’s a great program, I think every school should probably do it every Veterans Day, every year,” Leviness said.

Last week’s program also was an opportunity for the school to unveil its Wall of Honor, which pays tribute to each branch of the military. It is displayed outside the gymnasium, where a ceremony was held for the veterans last week.

Galbo said the Mount Pleasant School District also participates in a state program where a local school can provide a veteran who had left high school before graduating in order to serve in the military a diploma.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Peter Giarrizzo said he hopes students when they listened to and looked at the veterans who filed into the school’s gymnasium, they understood that those men and women served their country and didn’t ask for anything in return.

“What I hope they take away from this today is a lasting impact, the lasting important impact of service and something that’s bigger than them,” he said. “There’s something bigger than any of us, and that’s our nation.”


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