Combat veterans visit Highlands Middle School
Eighth-grader Austin Davis is convinced safety is more important than privacy.
It’s a conclusion he came to after researching the two issues for an essay he’s writing in his language arts class at Kennewick’s Highlands Middle School. He said he understands people are concerned about their privacy but thinks everything should be done to guarantee people’s safety.
But after talking about the issues with a veteran who visited his class on Thursday, the 14-year-old student said he heard a perspective he’d not considered before.
“Everybody wants to be safe, but he said you have to be careful not to abuse safety,” Austin said. “That confused me but when he explained it was about not abusing weapons, that made sense to me.”
The veterans, members of the local chapter of Combat Veterans International, visited Austin’s classroom as part of their outreach to schools. But where those veterans typically answer questions about their service, they were instead asked for their perspective on topics ranging from immigration and the military draft to the voting age and immunization.
While the essays are part of Highlands’ effort to meet new academic standards on writing, teacher Connie Fow said it’s also an opportunity to practice listening and understanding that people from all backgrounds have information to share.
“I wanted to up the ante a bit and get the kids to think outside the box, to think critically,” Fow said.
The Smarter Balanced Assessments, the standardized exams recently implemented as part of the Common Core State Standards in math and language arts, require schools to show students demonstrating skills in those subjects. Some of that is done with traditional testing, but eighth-graders are required to write an argumentative essay, making them to choose a topic, research the differing perspectives, then write in favor of one using their research.
It gives us a nice source, a reliable source from someone’s perspective other than our own.
Vasti Meza, 13
Fow’s students used books, articles and the Internet to conduct their research, but she also wanted them to talk to a real person as a source.
That led her to reach out to the veterans group. Paul Santis, a 22-year Air Force veteran, said he and other veterans were eager to help, as other commitments kept many from participating in this year’s Veterans Day activities at the school.
“We didn’t want them to think we blew them off,” Santis said.
Still, the topics weren’t necessarily ballpark questions. Santis was asked his thoughts on legalizing marijuana and the permitted ages for voting, smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol. He talked to the students about how he was allowed to smoke at age 16 and drink when he was 18. He also shared his experience of being a recovering alcoholic and how important moderation is in all things.
Vasti Meza, 13, questioned a veteran for her essay in support of helping refugees and said she was glad to have someone to bounce ideas off of.
“It gives us a nice source, a reliable source from someone’s perspective other than our own,” Vasti said.
At the end of one class period, Santis said he was glad to help out, noting he had more one-on-one conversation with students than he typically was able to get in during past visits to Highlands. And he said he could tell that the students were earnest in their questions.
“These kids have been given an opportunity and have recognized there’s plenty they can learn if they just slow down and listen,” he said.
Austin’s essay and those of his fellow students are for a component of state testing in language arts. The students are required to research and find sources to back up a claim they make about different issues.