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Soldier salute, streaming video in Veterans Day at Prairie View

Students hold up letters honoring our veterans Friday during Veterans Day program Prairie View Grade School Elgin.  The school

Students hold up letters honoring our veterans Friday during a Veterans Day program at Prairie View Grade School in Elgin. The school invited all veterans to the school assembly to honor their service to our country. November 9, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 12, 2012 6:34AM

ELGIN — What do both Prairie View Grade School students and soldiers have in common?

“They both learn a lot because soldiers need to learn how to use stuff and drive stuff, and students learn a lot, too.”

“They both have to concentrate on their work.”

“Students don’t risk their lives every day, but soldiers do.”

Those were some of the ideas students in kindergarten through grade five at Prairie View shared with Army Sgt. Christian Nebone Friday morning during their Veterans Day program in the school auditorium. More than 20 veterans, all 616 students and many more family and community members attended the program, which included a presentation by each grade level.

That came ahead of Veterans Day, which falls this year on a Sunday, meaning most businesses, schools and government services will observe the federal holiday on Monday.

But that doesn’t include schools in Central Community School District 301, like Prairie View. Nor does it include schools in Huntley Consolidated School District 158 or Community Unit School District 300, which ended up the butt of a joke on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno when it decided in 2009 to have class on Veterans Day.

District 301 first held class on Veterans Day, using the day as “an educational piece for our children,” in the 2000-2001 school year, according to Superintendent Todd Stirn.

“It’s been really an educational process, and it’s been really beneficial to thank the men and women who have served in our armed forces,” Stirn said.

Elgin School District U46 does not have school Monday, although many students learned about and honored veterans Friday at its schools. For one, Canton Middle School in Streamwood invited eight veterans, including three employees and two former students, to share their stories with classes throughout the day there.

Video to Kuwait

At Prairie View, kindergarteners led the gym in the Pledge of Allegiance, while third-graders signed along in American Sign Language. First-graders read a poem, and second-graders, a chant, accompanied by colorful signs.

Fifth-graders had made a video defining words like “freedom” and “patriotism.”

Students also had written letters that will be delivered to a platoon in Afghanistan in which a family member of one student is stationed, according to first-grade teacher Rachel Prill. They also are collecting donations for the Hines VA Hospital in Hines, Ill., she said.

Kristina Johnston of Elgin streamed the whole program Friday over Skype for her husband Staff Sgt. Jason Johnston, stationed in Kuwait with the Army National Guard. His face beamed back on the screen of her iPad as their son, 9-year-old Paul Johnston, took part in the color guard with other students who are Boy Scouts.

She didn’t want her husband to miss the program, Kristina Johnston said, and, “It’s nice for the kids when he’s gone. They can see his face instead of just getting letters sometimes.”

And, she said, she knew the program made Paul feel special knowing people “appreciate what (his dad) has done and the sacrifices we all make.”

Nebone said it also was “great” for him to participate in the program: “Any time you can interact with the community and see their thanks, that means a lot.”

He pointed out several more similarities between students and soldiers during his presentation: Both take buses, eat in cafeterias and have a band and PE classes. Although only students have the best kindergarten teacher in the world, according to the sergeant, whose wife teaches kindergarten at the school.

“So you see there are a lot of similarities between students and soldiers,” he said.

“We wear uniforms, and you guys get to wear whatever you want, but nevertheless we have a lot of similarities. So remember that this weekend when you see… the veterans you know: You have a lot of similarities.”

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