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Elk Ridge Students Learn First-Hand About Veterans’ Experiences

Aug 10, 2015 10:36AM ● Published by Bryan Scott

Elk Ridge students interview members of the Utah National Guard as part of an oral history class project. Photo courtesy of Julie Slama

By Julie Slama

About 100 eighth-graders at Elk Ridge Middle School prepared questions, tested their recorders and jotted notes as they listened to local enlisted personnel and veterans tell their experiences serving the country.

“The students are learning the difference in primary and secondary sources and they are recording interviews of these veterans’ personal experiences to save for future generations,” teacher Kaye Rizzuto said.

It also is a way for students to gain first-hand experiences in learning about current events as well as interviewing and listening skills.

“Six years back, we were talking about current events and a student didn’t realize we had soldiers in Afghanistan and that’s when I realized I had to do something. I saw that the Library of Congress wanted to retain personal accounts from World War II and that’s where I got the idea,” Rizzuto said.

She wrote and received a Jordan School District Service Learning Grant and a Qwest Technology Grant, which allowed her to purchase 30 digital recorders and 12 iPods, which the students used to interview local military on May 28, mostly from the National Guard stationed at Camp Williams.

Rizzuto maintains her own website and through the past half decade, has posted recordings of her students interviewing servicemen and women in World War II, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan and other military assignments.

Eighth-grader Abby Van Uitert interviewed Major Shane Day of the Utah National Guard 145th field artillery battalion.

“The hardest part (of serving in Iraq) mentally and physically was the stress,” Day said. 

While serving one year in Iraq, Day told Abby that fortunately, he didn’t see any casualties with the people he served with; that it felt like it was 120 degrees as they always wore body armor and needed water; and that although there were some people who wanted to harm them, there were some great people in Iraq who wanted to improve their vocational and educational skills.

“It changed my priorities, living outside the country. It’s good to see different cultures and societies, but it put it into perspective that it’s a right and privilege for our freedom and I am more appreciative for my country and family,” he said.

He also said that being deployed with his unit allowed them to become a tight-knit platoon.

“We had great relationships where we would do anything for each other,” he said, adding that they have played pranks upon each other for fun and to relieve stress.

Day said that he initially thought he’d serve for six years, then go to school and leave the service, but instead, he has continued. He has been deployed to Iraq, Korea, Morocco and Japan, leaving his wife and four children behind.

“That’s always the hardest part. I take photos and write letters to the kids because they like to get something in the mail. We can email and Skype and we receive support from the communities with lots of care packages. Fewer than one percent serve in the military. I didn’t think about joining even though my grandpa served in World War II and my dad was in the military. I enlisted for 15 years, then was commissioned as an officer for the past seven years,” he said.

Day said that he often visits schools to tell them what it is like being in the National Guard to give kids a sense of understanding about serving their country. He also hopes students understand their own individual rights and exercise them by getting involved in their community whether through its student government or city council.

Abby learned the importance from Day of those who serve in the military.

“I learned serving in the military is super important and cool and that we shouldn’t take things for granted, like voting,” she said. “He shared what he has learned from serving, his knowledge and leadership from being deployed to right here how it serves us in our community.”

Eighth-grader Sisi Kaili said she appreciated the experience she gained from her interview.

“I came up with questions from my curiosity, wondering what they did and why they did it,” she said. “It was neat that he told stories of pranks they played, experiences they shared, times they were scared. I learned to respect these people who are helping other people with their lives.”  


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