The fourth-grade students of Notre Dame Academy in Buffalo are spending this Veteran's Day giving thanks and honoring veterans in the local community, as well as outside of Western New York.
Seven years ago, Ellin Leone, then first-grade teacher at Notre Dame Academy, came up with the idea for students in her class to send greeting cards to veterans to thank them for their service. The project caught on and also served to teach students the importance of the men and women serving their country.
"Other teachers were getting anxious and excited about the idea too," Leone said. "The kids really caught on to the idea as well, and we have done this every year. I think students are more aware of the importance of veterans serving in the military."
Students at Notre Dame Academy send cards to the Batavia Veterans Medical Center, Buffalo Veterans Hospital, as well as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Not only do the students send these cards on Veteran's Day, but also at Christmas time and on Valentines Day. The students get creative with each of the cards and offer messages of thanks and hope.
"The kids have the freedom to write and design whatever they'd like on the card," Leone said. "Sometimes it is a very patriotic theme, other times children will incorporate a religious theme to the cards, especially around Christmas time."
Part of the reason for this activity is not only to send messages of thanks to veterans, but also to inform students about what the veterans have done for the country and how important it is. Leone has seen a difference in students over the years since she began the project.
"I first started doing these cards with my class as a first-grade teacher," she said. "Now, as a fourth-grade teacher, I feel as though every year students are more educated on what veterans have done for our country. It is important to teach them appreciation and educate them about veterans."
As part of the project, students learn about the challenges veterans face to defend the nation. Leone said one of the most important things students learn is not to forget what veterans have done and sacrificed in defense of the freedoms that exist in the country today.
Since cards are sent all over Western New York and beyond, the students start creating their cards a month in advance to be sure all of the hospitals receive them on time. The experience is something the students look forward to every year, and it allows them to show their gratitude to veterans in a creative and personal way.
"I think the students realize that they're making a difference, and brightening someone's day each year with these cards," Leone said.