January 9, 2020

Windham Teacher wins VFW State of Maine award and vies for National Citizenship Education title

By Lorraine Glowczak

Emily Stokes, sixth grade teacher at Windham Middle School (WMS) has been named the recipient of the Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award (grades 6 - 8) representing the State of Maine. She will receive this award on Saturday, January 11th at a banquet hosted at the MacCrillis-Rousseau VFW Post 8835, 175 Veterans Drive in Winslow at 6 p.m.

Stokes is being recognized for her resources and creative experiential learning she implements in the classroom, helping her students to learn about the men and women who are serving or have served in the armed forces

Commander Willie Goodman giving Windham
VFW Teacher Award to Emily Stokes in 2018
“Emily is deserving of this award because of her enthusiasm and commitment in instilling an awareness in her students of what veterans are and what they did for our country,” stated Willie Goodman, Commander of the Windham VFW Post 10643. “I, along with fellow veterans, have been interviewed by her students for her ‘Heart of Courage’ program and it was obvious with their questions they really had an understanding of veterans and their service.” The culmination of this program is an annual dinner to honor veterans with over 130 students, teachers and administrators in attendance, now going on its third year.

Stokes began teaching in 2001 at the Guy E. Rowe School in Norway, ME and was hired the following year as a fifth and sixth grade teacher at Jordan Small Middle School.  In 2015 she transferred to WMS.

Stokes explained that her teaching method was inspired by WMS’ Principal, Drew Patin and his encouragement of Project Based Learning in the classroom. “There was a lot of time devoted to the development of each project,” stated Stokes. “From that initiative came projects like ‘Taking Back Maine’s Future’, and ‘The Heat is On’.” The ‘Heart of Courage’ program is a part of the Project Based Learning initiative.

She and her team partner at the time, Sarah Hopkins, knew they wanted to develop a project involving students working with veterans. “Both of us have relatives and friends that serve(d),” Stokes said. “Initially we wanted students to really have an understanding of what people experience when serving, what families experience and ways we can thank service men/women for their sacrifices and dedication to the United States.  As the project developed, we focused on activities that would enable to students to answer three guiding questions:  What does it mean to be a veteran? How does war impact a person? How do we show gratitude to those in our community who have served?  So many veterans do not share their stories and it is so important for their own healing process.  We wanted students to hear the stories of these amazing men and women and to be able pass those stories along.”  

Stokes further explained that their roles as teachers morphed more into facilitators of the project and students were the ones doing the hard work – and it wasn’t all pen and paper – it involved work outside of the classroom, too.  “Students were interacting with the community, developing relationships with those that serve, learning how to conduct interviews, researching, writing informational text,” she said. “Students also developed compassion, integrity, responsibility, dedication, commitment to doing something bigger.  Students appreciation for those service men and women grew immensely throughout the project.” 

One of the most enduring and perhaps most impactful experiences occurred during visits to local cemeteries where the students placed flags. “Students were shocked to find headstones knocked over and some asked what they could do to help get headstones repaired,” Stokes shared. “Most of all, students displayed an overwhelming sense of compassion. When we went to the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta, that was the real kicker. Students washed, scrubbed and put a lot of elbow grease into cleaning headstones. During a break there was a group of boys that weren’t finished cleaning one of the bridges on the memorial walkway. When asked why they hadn’t joined the group for a break they said they weren’t finished scrubbing and that needed to scrub it more. They took so much pride in making that bridge shine.  At another point, there were families visiting their loved ones at the headstones placing flowers. One man was trying to clean the headstone by brushing it with his hand.  One student, of his own accord, walked up to the gentleman and asked if he could help him.  The student bent down on one knee, poured water over the stone and began scrubbing. One by one there was a chain reaction and students spread out approaching people and asking if they could help clean the headstones.  Families would talk with the students about their loved one.  There were tears that day. Tears of joy and pride for each and every student for the work they did.  This is why we do this project.”  

Stokes appreciates the help her classroom receives from the Windham VFW Post 10643 as they help in making this project happen.  “Not only did they participate in the project, they were able to get a grant for the project.  The grant covered nonfiction and fictional reading material for the project and covered busing cost.  For them, this has always been about the children.”
Goodman stated that teaching patriotism, the constitution and current events to her students is not only increasing their knowledge but will make them better citizens and future leaders.  

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