Civics Comes to Life for Middle School Students: Part II – By Cindy Balistreri

Students and teachers who visit Patriot Plaza have a unique experience in ninety minutes. There is a chance that they will hear “Taps” or a volley of shots from a nearby burial service. Services take place throughout each weekday with as many as fifteen on busy days. Students in small groups get to know a veteran who is the age of their grandparents and experience his/her knowledge of American history, and his/her personal experience serving in the U.S. military “long ago.” The personal interaction brings an emotional impact to the students, teachers, and the Guides.

What happens at Patriot Plaza for students?
Before the Tour: Students and teachers utilize pre-visit educational materials to become familiar with the themes of Patriot Plaza: Honor Service, Inspire Patriotism, and Embrace Freedom. Students learn who veterans are, the meaning of Memorial Day and Veterans Day, the rights and duties of U.S. citizens, and what to expect when visiting a national cemetery and Patriot Plaza.

During the Tour: Students are divided into small groups to participate in guided tours with volunteer Patriot Plaza Guides to learn about each of the five large artworks and a global map sandblasted in granite. They learn about national cemeteries, our military branches, and symbols of our country such as laurel leaves, blue and gold stars, the American bald eagle, and more. Their Guides are veterans or the relatives of veterans who have a passion for Patriot Plaza and its meaning. Patriot Plaza Guides participate in extensive training to master many facts and techniques for engaging students and adults during tours.

The artworks bring to life the heroism, sacrifices, and importance of those who have served our country, and their families – veterans and those buried at Sarasota National Cemetery. One student said, “Patriot Plaza is a touching reminder of those who fight, risking their flesh and blood, hopes and dreams, to help their country. It is inspiring and pushes people to be their best selves.” – Noelle Prouty, Sarasota Middle School 8th grader.

After the Tour: Students and their teachers reflect upon what they saw and heard while at Patriot Plaza. Students think about the freedoms they have in the U.S. that other countries do not have. They remember the symbols and themes of Patriot Plaza and have the opportunity to analyze two Civil War documentary photos. And, they remember the stories they heard from their Guides. Tracy Prince, K-8 Social Studies Program Specialist for the Sarasota County Schools, noted “The Patriot Plaza field trip has been a moving experience for our 8th-grade Civics students. Students can have conversations with veterans or their family members to make the themes of service, freedom, and patriotism come alive. Examining the artworks Testimonies and Witness to Mission allow the message of service to be passed to and inspire a younger generation. The Patriot Plaza field trip has provided a window that has allowed a real-world view of citizenship for our students.”

The Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County is the manager of the Patriot Plaza tours. These tours are listed as Explorations on EdExploreSRQ.com, a website with learning experiences provided by local organizations that are aligned to school standards. Jim Shirley, Executive Director of the Alliance, said, “Teenagers often get a bad rap of being indifferent or not caring. Every time I see an entire group of 8th graders stop, place their hands over their heart and bow their heads when Taps is played at the Plaza it helps me know that our future is in very good hands. This is one of the most important arts integration projects that we can provide for the school system and the Arts and Cultural Alliance is proud to be a part of it.”

Impact
Students in small groups have the first-hand opportunity to begin to know a veteran who is the age of their grandparents. They hear about and experience his/her knowledge of American history, and his/her personal experience serving in the U.S. military “long ago.” The Guide’s passion for Patriot Plaza and all it represents is always present. The Guides, Sarasota National Cemetery, and the Arts and Cultural Alliance look forward to welcoming many more students and teachers to Patriot Plaza in the future!

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