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Sacred Heart School honored for patriotism

When Sacred Heart School of Taftville eighth graders Ava Wasilewski and Anthony Debartolo were taking down and folding the school’s American flag at the end of a school day in January, little did they know that someone was watching.

“It reminded me of a Norman Rockwell painting,” said Tom Callinan, public information officer for the Norwich Area Veterans Council.

Callinan had just left the nearby post office, and was driving by the school, when he saw the two students taking down the flag. He was impressed with the proper respect they were showing, and suggested that the Veterans Council show its appreciation.

He approached the group’s president, Brian Hague, and they agreed to present the school with a certificate of patriotism.

“Properly thanking the students for putting up, taking down, and folding the flag — that’s patriotism,” said Hague. “Any small thing regarding patriotism is great. It starts little, and builds its way up.”

Members of the council, some of them Sacred Heart School alumni, gathered recently on a frigid winter morning to witness the student flag-raising, saluting as it went up. They then gathered in the school gymnasium to present the eighth graders and school administrators with the certificate.

“It’s the first time we’ve ‘caught’ a patriotic act, and the council figured we didn’t want to wait until a regularly scheduled ceremony to acknowledge it,” said Hague. “Let’s put something together now.”

A beaming Mother Christina Van Beck, Sacred Heart school principal, accepted the certificate on behalf of the school.

“There’s been a lot of leadership opportunities that the eighth graders haven’t been able to do this year because of COVID restrictions. The daily flag raising and lowering is one thing they still can do,” she said. “We also teach our students to say ‘thank you’ to every service man and woman they encounter, and to always have respect for them.”

The proper way to respect the flag, though, isn’t really taught by school faculty. The eighth graders each year pass along their knowledge to the incoming class.

“It’s like a sacred trust, along with other responsibilities that the older students have. The students teach each other,” said Van Beck.

The pandemic has also meant eighth graders have delivered hot lunches to the classrooms of the younger students, since no one can gather in the gym to have lunch. Older students have also been responsible for proper room ventilation, by opening windows as warranted.

“We have a variety of students involved this year, to show leadership during this trying time,” said Van Beck. “We want this year to be special for them. We can’t control the pandemic, but we can still instill the values of being at Sacred Heart.”

The patriotism certificate will hang outside the school’s eighth-grade classroom.

The school has not closed this academic year due to the pandemic. One class had to stay home for 14 days, but that’s all.

“We did everything we were supposed to do, following proper protocols,” said Van Beck. “The students have been happy to be in school — they’re wearing their masks, they’re keeping their distance.”

She said she was pleased to not only see so many Veterans Council members in attendance, but that some had attended the parochial school.

“We haven’t been able to have many speakers this year, due to COVID-19. I was really very moved with the ceremony,” she said.

The Veterans Council has presented similar certificates of patriotism to other organizations, such as the local Youth Marines.

“If you have a clear showing of patriotism, and help out the country, we’re more than willing to award you a certificate, and letting you know people are appreciative,” said Hague. The group meets on the first Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. at the Buckingham Memorial Building on Main Street in Norwich.

The council has also offered its members to speak about their experiences in the military to schools and other groups.

“The kids are interested,” said Callinan. “They have relatives, siblings, neighbors that have served. Everyone has a connection somewhere.”

The appearances have been curtailed due to the pandemic, but there are plans to resume them when possible. It’s a situation that made the certificate presentation at Sacred Heart even more special, said Hague.

“Acts of patriotism shouldn’t be restricted to ceremonies on Memorial Day, July 4th, or Veterans Day. It should be every day,” Van Beck said. “Luckily, Sacred Heart does that. It’s good hope for the future generation.”

Added Callinan: “This is something we have to foster — this kind of participation and patriotism.”

Kevin Gorden lives in Norwich.

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