During the Spring 2017 Semester, 3 K-12 Teachers in Bay Area Schools partnered with VDC to create lessons for students about the national cemeteries located in and around San Francisco, including field trips to the national cemetery sites (i.e., either San Francisco or Golden Gate Cemetery). Each one of the school groups represented a commitment from school leadership, strong connections to academic standards in English/Language Arts, History/Social Studies and ongoing interest in civic engagement through learning about our community’s veterans.
Connecting With Our Youth
By Judith Munter, PhD
April 2017: The first group came from an after school educational program located in San Francisco’s historic Bayview/Hunter’s Point community, Urban Ed Academy. The mission of this program is: “To provide adequate educational enrichment, family support and advocacy for struggling communities of color. . . to help students and their families succeed academically, improve social conditions and well-being to become productive citizens of their community.” The teacher and director of this program decided to focus the learning experience on study of the Buffalo Soldiers, exploring and discovering the historic legacy of African Americans in the U.S. military following the Civil War.
Parents and community volunteers participated in Urban Ed Academy’s April 2017 field trip to the San Francisco National Cemetery, and feedback on the learning experience indicates community-wide interest in expanding the students’ and community’s knowledge about the important contributions of Buffalo Soldiers in U.S. military history. Grades: 3-6.
May 2017: From Pacifica School District, Vallemar Middle School’s 6th grade class integrated a unit on the national cemeteries into their English/Language Arts curriculum during the spring semester. They also participated in a field trip to the Golden Gate National Cemetery in May 2017. A total of 54 students and two teachers participated in the project, with a total of 56 learners. Student groups researched the life story of diverse veterans buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery. Their research projects included study and presentations about Medal of Honor awardees and other heroes from our own local community.
Their teacher reported that the students shared interesting feedback and reflections after completing research projects and the field trip to the cemetery. Some were shocked at the age of death of the veterans they learned about, whether he or she was very young or very old. One student wondered how her veteran went on to live so long after fighting in such a terrible war – this student thought it would be hard to go on with memories of the fighting. One student thought it was odd that a person could win an award for killing so many people. One student compared his veteran’s story with a movie scene. Many students made connections to family members who were in the military and/or fought in a war. Some students did not realize that military people have died in events other than a war. They were all shocked when they saw how many grave markers there are at the Golden Gate National Cemetery.
June 2017: The third school partnership group was led by two 7th grade teachers from Alta Vista Middle School. These two teachers developed an integrated humanities lesson designed to connect English and History. The purpose of this interdisciplinary lesson was to engage students in the processes of interpreting and responding to the value of memorials. Students began by learning about various national cemeteries across the United States in history while developing their skills of describing a place through writing. Students had a chance to learn about the San Francisco National Cemetery, and to research various individuals and groups interred there. During their field trip to that site in June 2017, students had time inside the cemetery to begin capturing the spirit of these life histories and places in writing.
After the field trip students considered key questions about why military history is important and how memories of these histories can be shaped and influenced. As culminating activities, the students designed, planned, and created models or blueprints of memorials to represent ideas, events, or persons they deemed important from the San Francisco National Cemetery (History). They also outlined, wrote, revised, and published poetry that captured the spirit of this site (English). Following here are selections from the 7th grade students’ poems:
In The Calm Of Death, the Light
by Sam Rothenberg
In the calm of death I see the light,
As I walk in this starry night
As I walk, I see the names in the stones,
All I can think about are the bones
In the calm of death, the light
The bones that are buried
Unhurried, unwearied, unworried,
The bones that are buried six feet down
Makes the cemetary feel like a ghost town
In the calm of death, no light
And then I see it, plain and clear,
As if it had only been a year,
This gravestone was perfect,
With no markings that I could detect,
This grave was perfect, well and kept
In the calm of death, there is a light,
A light so bright that it lights up the night
by Kokwe Dadzie
A sea of gravestones
in a pit of grass.
A prickly, painful,
pit of grass.
Six feet under
through my fingertips.
I can smell the sweet,
sweet scent of flowers,
Floating in the air.
All in tranquility
honoring the dead.
The birds sing,
Their songs of sorrow,
Whilst a wistful silence,
blankets over the
So as I sit,
Immersed in heartache,
who devoted their lives,
To our nation.
As if service to our country
Was why god had their creation,
I leave a part of me
With these bodies,
I leave my respect
And lay it across the fine grass.
And walk away.