Students remember those who gave all

By Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 9/12/18

ORANGE PARK – W.E. Cherry Elementary students congregated in the school parking lot to celebrate Patriot Day and honor the men and women who died 17 years ago on September 11, 2011.

On Sept. …

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Students remember those who gave all


ORANGE PARK – W.E. Cherry Elementary students congregated in the school parking lot to celebrate Patriot Day and honor the men and women who died 17 years ago on September 11, 2011.

On Sept. 11, students watched as their fellow peers sang the National Anthem and other songs to commemorate the day and show gratitude to not only those that are no longer alive, but those alive today who serve in the military, police and fire and rescue.

According to W.E. Cherry Assistant Principal Jarrod Eason, who himself served as a firefighter in Arkansas, said the reason for the applause is not because they were instructed to, but because the kids truly understand the gravity of what those men and women do.

“Even the youngest have pride in this country,” Eason said. “These students weren’t even born yet [when 9/11 happened], but you see them taking this seriously. There are so many families with members in service and that’s true with these kids. They get it. It almost brings tears to your eyes.”

Patriot Day was made an official day of service and remembrance on September 11, 2016, by President Barack Obama. While 9/11 has been a day of remembrance since 2001, it was Obama’s proclamation that made it so every department, agency and municipality lower their U.S. Flag to half-staff.

W.E. Cherry ESE teacher Kwame Jones, who has been at the school 11 years, organized the event. She said the school tries to do something like this every year. Jones said the reason for this ceremony is simply appreciation.

“We wanted to acknowledge the people that work so hard for us, day in and day out, and we want to show them that their service is appreciated,” Jones said. “We’re just completely and totally grateful for them and we just wanted something that could express how thankful we are for what they do. That’s what today is about.”

Jones hopes that this ceremony is something that happens each year and grows. This year, six honor chorus members sang songs and read in front of hundreds of students. Sixth grader Melinda Oyenarte, fifth grader Allena Locklear, sixth grader Isabella McElroy, fifth graders Zoe McGee and Jayleena Rodriguez agreed they were honored to participate. For them, it’s about giving back to those who risk their lives every day for their freedom.

“People risked their lives for us and they didn’t have to but they did,” McGee said. “People died for us.”

Each of these girls had something quite profound to say, especially for children born years and years after the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Instead of running from danger, they ran right to it,” Rodriguez said.

McElroy said nobody would have the freedoms they have if it wasn’t for those people on 9/11 and the people that serve today. Locklear said it felt incredible to sing for these men and women, while Oyenarte said the annual commemoration helps her keep in perspective what this day means for America.

Joining the hundreds of students and dozens of staff was Clay County District 4 School Board Member Mary Bolla. This ceremony is especially important to her because on Sept. 11, 2001, she was teaching inside a classroom at W.E. Cherry Elementary.

“I was teaching when it all happened, teaching right here,” Bolla said. “We had a television in class but were instructed not to turn them on so all of the teachers during their break were in the front office watching the TV in there. We all sat around watching what happened that day play out and we just couldn’t believe what we saw. I remember thinking, ‘how was this happening?’.”

Bolla, who began at W.E. Cherry Elementary as an intern before officially working as a teacher there, struggled for words to describe what it meant to be back at the school 17 years later. Eventually, one word came to mind.

“Fulfilling,” Bolla said. “W.E. Cherry has always been incredibly special. It’s a family school and everyone here takes care of each other. I don’t know all of these people but they’re family. To come back here today, it means a lot.”


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