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Hart Beat

Learn to celebrate the Fourth of July

I received the nicest present the other day. It was a hand-drawn American flag, complete with a field of blue and a series of uneven red and white stripes. The 50 stars were plotted in tight rows inside the blue field.

I think the drawing is just perfect, right down to the single star just hanging out on its own due to a slight miscalculation.

I love that little flag and I'm already looking for a frame with which it to preserve it.

I asked the artist to sign his work so I'll remember who gave me the drawing. His name is Ricky and when he handed the flag to me, I was overwhelmed. For my thanks, I got a shy smile.

Ricky is a student in a unique Mabton School District summer enrichment program, under the direction of Mabton Volunteer Coordinator Betty Carlyle. She explained that the program focuses on giving "A" and "B" average students extra exposure to culture, art and crafts and music. Simply put, the enrichment program is a humanities class where the youngsters will be learning how people from different cultures from around the world have come to make the United States home.

This past week Ricky and the other 19 kids in his class were focused on patriotism and learning more about the Forth of July. Carlyle believes in having real people tell their stories, rather than just having the children read stories from books. So she has organized a plethora of speakers, who during the coming weeks will share their history and customs with the youngsters.

For the study on freedoms and independence, Carlyle asked John Smith of Toppenish to share a piece of his history with the students.

So while Ricky drew his flag for me, he listened as Smith, a Vietnam war veteran, told of his time served in three branches of the U.S. military. Smith captured the children's attention while telling of his life's story as a soldier, marine and sailor. For his efforts, the children peppered him with questions. Questions like "were you ever scared?" Smith's answer was yes, but that he felt he had been blessed to make it home alive and in one piece.

My favorite question came from the girl who wanted to know what it was like to be an Army paratrooper. Smith gave the children a very physical demonstration of a typical parachute jump, explaining the "tuck and roll" technique necessary to survive such a jump.

Smith's candor won over the children, many of whom have older brothers and sisters serving overseas in Iraq and elsewhere in the U.S. military.

I think their attention to Smith indicates that children are curious and eager to know what it is really like to go off to war and to fight for our freedoms.

Listening to Smith, I could see that they were soaking up his comments. Any unnecessary noise in the room was met with stern shushing from the other students.

As a part of his comments, Smith invited the children to travel to Toppenish this coming Monday to watch him march in the Toppenish Pow Wow Fourth of July Parade at 11 a.m. Smith is a member of the Yakama Warriors Association, a veterans group comprised of native Americans who served in the military. I hope the children in Carlyle's room do get to see Smith and his fellow Toppenish veterans group march in the Fourth of July Parade.

What better way for the children to celebrate their freedom than to salute the men and women who have and continue to preserve those freedoms.

I also hope that parents of students in Sunnyside decide to celebrate the Fourth of July by attending some of the events planned this weekend in Sunnyside. They include Saturday's seventh annual Sunnyside Soapbox Derby and the Sunnyside Rotary Swim Team's "for the fun of it" community relay races, all planned at Sunnyside's Central Park. Activities begin on Saturday at 9 a.m. I also hope the rest of the community will turn out to enjoy a late evening of fireworks being presented on Monday night at Sunnyside High School's Clem Senn Football Field. The gates at the field will open at 7 p.m. and families are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, picnic baskets and blankets to enjoy an evening saluting local veterans, who will talk about their experience in the military.

We live in a great, if sometimes flawed country. We need to remember that little boys, like Ricky, also want to grow up in the land of the free and brave.

Thanks Mrs. Carlyle for helping Ricky learn about patriotism and freedom through the stories of John Smith. I think Ricky has already demonstrated his own bravery by creating a piece of art and then giving it away to a complete stranger.

I just love that.

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