BLISSFIELD, Mich. - Fourth graders in Brenda Reinhardt's class don't rely on just textbooks to learn about citizenship and the principles of democracy.
Instead, Ms. Reinhardt takes the 9 and 10-year-olds to the Riga Cemetery where they decorate the graves of veterans with remembrances.
The students have also interviewed veterans one-on-one about their experiences in battle and made those into a video for a Memorial Day program.
Because of her work in the classroom, the Blissfield Elementary teacher was chosen from dozens of Michigan school teachers to receive the state's Veterans of Foreign Wars' National Citizenship Education Award.
The award is designed to recognize the nation's top elementary, middle school, and high school teachers who take on citizenship education topics and promote America's history and traditions.
Ms. Reinhardt, of Toledo, was nominated by the Blissfield VFW Post 10912 for the award.
She was selected over other nominees from other posts in the VFW district that covers Monroe, Lenawee, Jackson, Washtenaw, Ingham, and Livingston counties.
Each of the 12 districts in the state submitted nominations for top teachers.
The winning entries were picked by a panel of Marine Corp veterans.
"I am honored and very humbled. I am so glad to be representing local Blissfield veterans," she said.
A teacher since 1976, Ms. Reinhardt grew up in Lansing and graduated from Michigan State University, where she earned bachelor and masters degrees.
She has taught 16 years at Blissfield Elementary, the last six years in the fourth grade.
"Quiet Heroes" was among the projects that have paid tribute to local military veterans. Students asked myriad questions of the veterans who came into the classroom.
The questions ranged from why they joined the military to whether they would do it again.
Veterans of a variety of wartime experiences participated.
"My kids were fascinated," she said.
The interviews were videotaped and weaved into a presentation that was shown the week before Memorial Day in 2006.
"From the veterans you got real touching stories that get to your heart and give you a true sense of what it means to be an American and to fight for freedom," said Dee Crane, principal of the elementary school.
The students have also taken trips to visit nursing home patients at the Ann Arbor Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. They have sent Christmas and birthday cards to the veterans they met there.
Ms. Reinhardt said her interest in the military and in democracy stems from her late father, who fought with the Marines in the South Pacific during World War II.
"I know that he is with me. He is guiding me on this," she said.
As a state winner, Ms. Reinhardt is in the running to be recognized as the VFW's national citizenship teacher at the elementary level. The winners are scheduled to be announced in early February.
The top teachers will receive $1,000 cash award for professional development and their schools will each get $1,000.
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