First grade teacher Sara Hancock pins a poppy on Hadley Hawkins during Remembrance Week at St. Thomas More School in Southwest Portland.  (Courtesy St. Thomas More School)
First grade teacher Sara Hancock pins a poppy on Hadley Hawkins during Remembrance Week at St. Thomas More School in Southwest Portland. (Courtesy St. Thomas More School)
The students of St. Thomas More School in Southwest Portland celebrated veterans for a week last month, thanks to the special efforts of teacher Melissa Conlan. Conlan shared her native British traditions of honoring the military and encouraged the entire community to “rethink remembrance.”

In Britain, wearing a red poppy in the lapel is a time-honored way to remember the war dead. In the spring of 1915, shortly after losing a friend in battle, Canadian doctor Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was inspired by the sight of poppies growing in battle-scarred fields to write a now famous poem called “In Flanders Fields.” After the First World War, the poppy was adopted as a symbol of remembrance.

Conlan recalled that the British continually honor those who lose their lives in service of the country. She said it’s important that students not look at Veterans Day as simply vacation. “I was impressed by how the students and the whole community really embraced the discussion and furthered it on their own,” she said.

Conlan provided background on the holiday and shared the story of the red poppy and its significance. The students heard “In Flanders Fields” and watched educational videos.

At an assembly on Nov. 10, the community wore red poppies and participated in two minutes of silence to honor the military personnel who served in times of war and peace. Parents who are veterans led the Pledge of Allegiance while Father Martin King, the pastor of St. Thomas More and a veteran himself, served as flag bearer.