What would it mean to you to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?
That was the question given to the students at Phillips Middle School for an essay contest. David Newman, eighth-grade history teacher, is taking 125 of the school's students to Washington, D.C., in March, including a trip to Arlington National Cemetery.
"One of the neatest places that we go see in my opinion is Arlington Cemetery," Newman said. "At Arlington Cemetery the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, they have a wreath-laying ceremony that lots of different groups get to participate in but it's something I have to sign up for a year in advance to get an appointment to do this."
The essay contest was held in the school to determine which four students would get to participate in the wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Newman said.
"I have to decide which four of our students get to lay the wreath, which is a thing that I don't want to have to do," he said. "It's a tough thing to have to pick four kids out of 125. So what I do is I offer the kids, anybody who wants to have an opportunity to lay that wreath, to write an essay on what the wreath laying would mean to me."
The four winners of the contest are Josie Blankenburg, Katie Astor, Kearstyn Lennon, and Kaylie Dahlgrun.
Blankenburg's essay received the most points.
"This would mean so much to me because I am so thankful for freedom and the troops who have lost or sacrificed their lives to protect us and for the welfare of the people of the United States," she wrote. "Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are so much more than just a regular cemetery or tomb. It is a dedication to all those who have lost their lives for us."
The four students will present a Phillips Middle School wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in March.
As a teacher, Newman said that the essay contest was a rewarding experience.
"You get some neat essays out of it," he said. "I ended up having 20 students that took advantage of writing an essay for that opportunity. I didn't want to pick it myself. I had five judges."
The essays submitted were very impressive, Newman said.
"I wouldn't have wanted to be the one to pick these because they were all very good," he said. "I wish I could have had every one of them get a chance to lay the wreath."
Newman said that while not every student availed themselves of the opportunity to do an essay, he knows they will all enjoy visiting the cemetery.
"I've taken two different groups in the past. A lot of kids, after we've been to Arlington Cemetery, are just be amazed," he said. "I know a lot of them will choose that as one of the neatest places that we go, and we go everywhere. We'll go to all the monuments, the World War II memorials, Korean War memorial. We'll go to a lot of the different places. It's pretty impressive when I hear eighth graders say Arlington Cemetery was one of the most impressive places they went to."
The trip to Washington, D.C.,will be an exciting one, Newman said.
"It is a neat experience," he said. "It's a living history. It's something they don't have to read out of a textbook."
The students will leave March 18, on three charter buses and after a 24-hour drive arrive in the nation's capitol. They'll spend all March 21 there, and leave March 22 evening, returning late on March 23.
Not only will the trip be a "neat experience," it will also be a tiring one, Newman said.
"We've got enough time to really tire them out," he said. "They're really excited on the way out, and they'll be awake most of the time, but on the way out they'll sleep all the way home."
Contact Brandon L. Summers at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org