WAUSEON — The graves of several Wauseon veterans will be covered this Christmas with blankets crafted of freshly cut evergreen boughs by high school students participating in a new school program.
The project is just one of many activities the students undertook since the start of the Wauseon High School Community Learning Center this fall. The program offers academic assistance with an emphasis on reading and math, service learning projects, and recreation opportunities for 54 registered students. Roughly two dozen regularly show up for the center’s after-school programming Mondays through Thursdays.
Recently, students helped construct grave blankets by weaving evergreen clippings and securing the branches with chicken wire. A local florist approached Kim Murry, co-coordinator of the high school program, with the idea to create the seasonal cemetery tributes, and an area resident allowed the program to collect evergreens from her property. After assembling the blankets, the students gave them to several local families who lost loved ones in the Vietnam War and World War II.
“I was ecstatic. It was the best Christmas present ever,” said Sherryann Franks, the Americanism chairman for the Wauseon American Legion Auxiliary Post 265 and the Wauseon VFW Auxiliary Post 7424.
She helped select graves to receive the blankets, and said she was touched that students wanted to honor veterans. Three grave blankets are in place at Wauseon Union Cemetery, and a couple more remain to be distributed, she said.
A blanket crafted by students now rests on the grave of Roger Dale Ruoff, an Army medic who died in Vietnam on Nov. 16, 1966, at age 21. He attended high school in Wauseon, and his family members appreciated the gesture by current students.
“I couldn’t believe the kids were doing this for them,” said Rosali Wood, who lives in Wauseon and is Mr. Ruoff’s sister-in-law. “I was real proud of these young people.”
Students also enjoyed the project. Eleventh grader Aric Gurzynski, 16, helped put branches in place so they could be tied with wire and said he found the project interesting.
Ninth grader Bradley Goins, 14, joined the after-school program because he “thought it would be fun” and particularly liked making the grave blankets alongside his friends.
“It made me feel good,” he said, of the families’ appreciation for their work.
Both students spent time the week before Christmas decorating cookies during the program’s after-school hours. Young Bradley carefully iced a star-shaped cookie with yellow frosting, and others at a nearby table dipped buckeyes in chocolate using toothpicks.
The cookies and treats were for a caroling event and party with the students’ families. A big part of the program is to incorporate the students’ families in activities, said Ms. Murry.
The program’s funds are through a five-year federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grant administered by the Ohio Department of Education. Wauseon’s high school and middle school are in their first years of the grant and share $200,000 a year for each of the first three years. The high school and middle school programs will split $150,000 in the fourth year and $100,000 in the fifth year. The funds pay for staffing, supplies, transportation, technology, activities, and other costs.
The program is open to all students, with a particular emphasis on serving at-risk and struggling students. It strives to provide academic help and connection to the community, officials said. The Northwest Ohio Educational Service Center is the fiscal agent for roughly a dozen school districts with similar grant programs in Fulton, Defiance, Henry, and Williams counties. Annette Rosebrock, the agency’s program director for 21st Century grants, said the focus of the programs is to look at “the whole child.” She said test scores, student attendance, and student self-esteem have improved at schools where the program has had time to take root.
“The biggest thing is positive relationships with each other and staff,” she said.
Service projects, such as the grave blanket construction, are a big part of the program “so that they take pride in their community,” she added.
Contact Vanessa McCray at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6065.