Students Explore Veterans Experiences at Battle Creek VA

Jonnie Palone


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Veteran Sidney Tanoff reads his report written by Loy Norrix students at the VA picnic May 26th. After eating lunch with his group he looks down and reads the biography about his service and his life. Photo Credit / Jonnie Palone

Students excited to meet their veterans steadily walk off the bus in the area of Battle Creek known as the Veterans Affair. The Veterans Affair (VA) facility provides benefits, support and medical care of American veterans. With pens and clipboards in their hands, Loy Norrix students eagerly moved to the VA doors to meet their assigned United States veteran. The students then began interviewing their veterans to write a biography on them and their service.
The VA is its own small community with housing, fire stations, greenhouses and bowling alleys. The VA provides veterans with all the resources they may need. The VA is a hospital and a home to veterans from all over Michigan.
Sveri May, teacher and community advocate at Loy Norrix High School, takes sophomore history students on the Living History Project every year. This is the 20th anniversary of the project.
May continues to run this project each year for the benefits it offers the students in experiencing and studying history. The students prep with May weeks before the trip and students choose a veteran willing to be interviewed. Students work in teams to interview the veteran they find interesting. The student’s on this trip use a template of questions to conduct an interview with a veteran and write a biography about the veteran. Then the portfolio is given to the veteran at a later date.
Sophomore students of May and Coach Sean Bergan, Loy Norrix history teacher, left on March 29th to meet their veterans for the first time.
“Students need to hear the stories from the people who help shape history and impact history today. [Students] learn to respect veterans and don’t often get the chance to have a personal experience with history,” said May.
The day of the field trip, all of the students met in the cafeteria and got into their assigned groups. They then took a bus to the Battle Creek VA center. Once there the students  are escorted to the location where they will meet and interview an American veteran.
Those on the Living History Project have about a two hour opportunity to interview and get to know their veterans with their group partners. After finishing the interviews, students load back onto the bus and they get a basic tour of the VA buildings and their uses. After leaving the VA, participants of the project get a sponsored lunch either at Mcdonalds or Subway at the Galesburg exit on the way home.
Once returned to Loy Norrix, students write a reflection on their experience of the VA trip and review interview notes. In between returning on the 26th of May, students type and edit the biography for their veteran. Those who complete the assignment have the opportunity to return to the VA and present their biography to the veteran. May offers at least six class periods to work on the project.
On May 26th students with completed biographies get on the bus to finish the trip. Before going to the VA the group goes to Fort Custer National cemetery to place flags on American graves and some German prisoners of war to show respect. Any student who has a deceased relative buried in Fort Custer National Cemetery will have the chance to place a flag on their personal family member’s grave. The students then picnic at the VA and meet their veteran again. They reminisce about the project itself and the veterans’ service.
Students then tour the National Fort Custer Military base. Here students with the most well written biography receive the Regimental Coin of Excellence from the National Guard.
This year students got to see the Baby Pentagon education center and tour a museum. Members of The National Guard give a quick run down of Fort Custer.
The final part of the Living History Project Students complete a thank you letter as their final part.
“The Living History Project meant everything to me because my dad’s a veteran who stays at the VA. It’s a great opportunity for students to get hands on with history,” said Joel Hooker a sophomore student who completed the project.
Sophomores Ramsey Prieto and Seth Gruber place flags on American veterans graves at Fort Custer national cemetery. These students honor them by paying respects to their final resting place. Photo Credit / Jonnie Palone

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Loy Norrix Living History Project students arrive at Fort Custer National cemetery where they are taught how to properly place flags on graves by an American veteran. With American flags in the students hands they all prepare to decorate grave sites to show respect to those who served. Photo Credit / Jonnie Palone

Jesse Shavers, veteran at the VA enjoys his lunch sponsored by the Living History Project as they reminisce their service and the project completed by the students. Students and veterans line up to get food from the buffet style lunch provided for the participants and American veterans. Photo Credit / Jonnie Palone

Sophomores Ramsey Prieto and Christain Buckhout push their veteran from the ward to the picnic at the VA. Along the way they chat with veteran Mark McVia about his service. Photo Credit / Jonnie Palone