West Elementary hosts packed Veterans Day program

West Elementary School held its annual Veterans Day program Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Lauren Estes for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Fifth-grade students at West Elementary presented a Veterans Day program for the community Thursday, Nov. 10.  

Fifth-grade teacher Keenan Fowlkes, who is also a member of the Army National Guard, said the school’s program began in the 1980s and has grown bigger and better every year. 

“I start writing and planning the program in the summer before school starts back,” she said. “Then once we get into our routine at school, I start pulling the flag folding team to practice during my planning time. After that, we begin whole group practices during their P.E. a couple of days a week.”  

Fowlkes said there are a lot of little details that have to be taken care of in order to make the program a success.  

“You have to teach them what this program is all about so they know ‘why’ they are doing it,” Fowlkes said. “Students then have a lot to memorize such as the preamble, ‘Alabama’ state song and the branches of service (‘United States Armed Forces) Medley.’ We have around 130 kids in fifth grade here at West (who) participate.” 

Fowlkes said she feels that it’s important to host a respectful program to honor those who serve our country.  

“Whether in times of war or peace, veterans and their families devote their lives to the service of our great nation,” Fowlkes said . “Kids need to be taught that freedom is not free. Veterans have put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms that we hold dear. We must take time to honor them in our schools.” 

As part of the program, West Elementary honors Gold Star mothers, those who lost a child who was in active duty.  

“The Gold Star Mother (who) was honored today was Mrs. Jeanice Galin. Her son was Army Staff Sgt. Travis Nelson, who was killed Dec. 10, 2005, by hostile fire at a checkpoint outside of Baghdad while in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Fowlkes said. “The Cullman High graduate was Cullman County’s first casualty of the war in Iraq, and his mother has attended the program every year since his death.” 

The guest speaker at Thursday’s event was Jane Neal Humiston, a retired teacher of 37 years and the one who started the program at West.  

“She has dedicated her life to serving the students and veterans of Cullman,” Fowlkes said. “She is a role model to many people in this community, and especially to me. After she retired, I knew I would never let this program die. She built a beautiful program that brings such grace and honor to our veterans and I plan to keep it going as long as I am able!” 

Fowlkes said she truly believes students value practicing and then hosting the program each year.  

“The kids enjoy doing this program so much, even though it takes a lot of their recess time,” Fowlkes said. “I still have kids who come back to my classroom to tell me how much they loved honoring the veterans when they were in the program. I’ve had several students tell me they will be joining the military. I’ve even had some kids who have already graduated high school (who) are currently serving their country.”