West Hills 1st Graders Show New Found Patriotism

About 170 first graders from West Hills Primary School in East Franklin Township prepared for the Memorial Day holiday by memorizing American facts, poems and songs. They performed those for parents and guests Thursday.

by Jonathan Weaver

More than 150 West Hills Primary first-graders were proud to share their knowledge of America’s symbols and sing patriotic songs to parents during their annual Memorial Day program Thursday.

Under the direction of K-3 General Music Teacher Charlene Krecota, about 170 students from eight different classes

“Each class picked a topic about the United States, a symbol such as the Statue of Liberty, the flag or the bald eagle and learned a poem and facts to share with the audience,” Krecota said.

Students began practicing at the end of April – both in their regular classrooms and once per week in music classes.

“(For) some of them, I knew memorizing was a challenge, but they pulled it all together in the end,” Krecota said. “This year, they did very well. It’s amazing for seven year olds to get up there – some of them love to perform.

“I like it for the fact that they get that sense of accomplishment and they have pride in what they’ve done. They recognize that they did a good job and they have pride in that.”

Students performed twice for parents – in the early-morning and afternoon.

“I love doing the program with them and hopefully instilling in them a pride in their country – it’s important to get them young so hopefully they carry that in their adult life,” Krecota said. “I love to hear my second-or-third graders when they come back – when they hear these songs, they remember it and sing it.

“So, now it’s going to be something they carry with them for the rest of their life.”

First-grade Teacher Alysha Gallagher taught for two years at Elderton Elementary before transferring to West Hills Primary this year.

She confirmed students took pride in learning about their family’s military history while learning about the symbols and the State flower, bird and flag.

The class also did activities during Veterans Day this past Fall.

“They brought in things to send packages over, and when they got letters back, it really connected for them. You might think that they’re six and they don’t understand but they really do,” Gallagher said. “And they brought in pictures of their family that served in the military – I was surprised how much they knew.”

Both of Gallagher’s grandfathers served in the U.S. Army and Air Force after World War II, respectively.

U.S Air Force veteran Bill Skinner, of East Franklin Township, was stationed in Japan, and has attended school Veterans Day programs.

Gallagher’s class reiterated facts about the American flag. To ease their nerves, she grouped them with two or three other students.

“They all got to speak, but they felt better with their friends nearby,” Gallagher said. “They did well – I was so proud of them (Thursday).”

Robert Bowser, of Kittanning, attended the afternoon program to watch six-year-old grandson Cayden.

The past-Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War Camp 43 Commander, Bowser had three great-great-great grandfathers that fought in the Civil War – including U.S. 103rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Henry Wyant, who was captured and died in Andersonville Prison in Georgia.

Several of Bowser’s uncles also served in the U.S. Navy since, and he plans to honor his family Monday.

“I have several that were in the Civil War. We’ll go and place flowers,” Bowser said.

He was accompanied to the patriotic program by step-daughter, Allison Mechling, and step-son, Jared.

Bowser’s granddaughter, Chloe, also performed in the patriotic program two years ago when she was in first grade.

Both Chloe and Cayden would walk with Bowser while he was camp commander, and will attend Kittanning’s Memorial Day parade Monday morning.

Krecota also is tied with the Sarah A. Crawford Camp ladies auxiliary.