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Eighth-graders plan annual Veteran’s Day breakfast

Once again, eighth-graders from the Pagosa Springs Middle School will be serving up breakfast for Archuleta County military veterans at the Ross Aragon Community Center on Thursday, Nov. 11 — Veterans Day — in what has become a Pagosa Springs tradition, now in its 11th year.

“It all started with Dan Janowsky and his desire to honor local veterans,” said Scott White, American History teacher at PSMS, who now coordinates the program, “and get the kids to meet and learn from them.”

With his eighth-grade American History course focused on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the mechanisms of U.S. government during the previous nine weeks, White said that it just so happens the unit on Veterans Day coincides with the holiday, creating a perfect learning opportunity for his students.

“They (the students) get a chance to really talk to the veterans, hear their stories,” White said, adding, “it strengthens in my kids, hearing it from the veterans, what this country offers them.”

Waking up extra early on Veterans Day, the eighth-graders arrive at school at first light — an unintentional lesson in the experience of soldiers — then make their way to the community center to begin preparations for the morning. While the initial focus of the event is providing veterans with a delicious hot breakfast, the students soon find themselves sitting with the veterans, enrapt in stories, enthralled by the personal experiences that the veterans share.

Veterans experience a benefit as well. According to Archuleta County Commissioner Bob Moomaw, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War, said, “The first one I went to was one of the most pleasant and moving Veterans Day experiences I’ve had in years. I’ve been going for many years and I would not miss a single one.

“I think it’s a wonderful chance for our young people to hear what the veterans have gone through and what it means to their (the students’) lives in the present,” he added. “They’re really great, great kids and I think it speaks volumes for this community.”

Long after the trays have been cleared and the tables have been rolled away, the students continue with the experience, however.

“After it’s over, it’s a group effort involving all the teachers. The students share their experiences. Then, there’s an essay. They give names of the veterans they talked to and write about the stories they were told,” White said, “and, about a month later, they write a letter to a veteran, thanking them for attending.”

White said that he would like to see more younger veterans attend this year — and in years to come.

“I know there’s a lot of younger veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts out there,” he said, “and we’d really like them to come join us. They need to know that they’re invited and more than welcome to attend.”

The breakfast runs from 7:30 to 11 a.m. at the Ross Aragon Community Center on Veterans Day and all veterans are invited to attend.

In what has become a notable tradition in Pagosa Springs, the Veterans Day breakfast is a slice of small-town life that conveys it is an honor to serve those who have served to protect the way of life that makes that tradition possible.

jim@pagosasun.com