Jessica Box's students at Grace Baptist Academy say Veterans Day has deeper meaning to them now.
"When you see someone in a military uniform, you feel like it's your duty to go thank them for their service. Now it's like you really understand what they had to go through, so you appreciate their decision to serve," sophomore Kayla Sellers said.
The 55 sophomores in Box's English classes just completed a three-week project in which they vicariously lived the lives of the World War II flag-raisers at Iwo Jima.
Box's innovative plan was to combine mandatory summer reading with an online project that would connect today's youth with the Greatest Generation, the parents of baby boomers.
"I'm fascinated by the Greatest Generation," Box said. "Some students didn't know when we started this project that generations even had labels.
"It seems English (class) is so geared to girls that it's hard to get the guys to discuss books. I thought if they were reading about a war, they might be more uninhibited," said the teacher.
She assigned her students James Bradley's "Flags of Our Fathers" as part of their summer reading. Bradley's father, John, was one of the six soldiers immortalized in the iconic flag-raising photo at Iwo Jima. "Flags of Our Fathers" recounts the stories of those six men.
Box made the World War II story relevant to teens by asking them to pick one of the six flag-raisers and create a Facebook page for that soldier.
They had to search the Web for a photo of their veteran, write his biography in the About Me section of their Facebook page and create an Interests/Favorites section using clues from the book to tell what their character enjoyed, such as movies and books of that era.
Additionally, all posts and blogs had to be worded in the regional vernacular in which their character would have spoken.
Janna Holcombe said she Googled video from the film "Sands of Iwo Jima" to post on her page after learning that her veteran, one of the three surviving flag-raisers, was in the movie.
"It was cool because in the book they were characters, but watching the video they became real people," Holcombe said.
Box supplemented the project with class discussions about the Greatest Generation, prompted by excerpts she read from Tom Brokaw's book of the same name.
"We talked about being frugal, hard work, responsibility and character traits of that generation. We talked about not expecting a thank-you, that they did their job simply because it was their job," the teacher said.
"We even discussed how their marriages seemed to last longer. It wasn't uncommon for them to have a sweetheart and be married 50 to 60 years," she said.
"After reading the book, you really understand what they had to go through. It gives Veterans Day a different meaning," said Megan Thompson.
"Once you read the book, and really get into their perspective, it changes your perspective, and you appreciate veterans more," she said.