BV students learn by interviewing veterans

Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Julie Adams (left) and Manda Brown Atkinson, sisters of fallen Navy SEALs, recently spoke with students at Berryville Middle School. Adams' brother, Tommy Ratzlaff, was a native of Green Forest. (Photo by David Bell/Carroll County News)

Berryville Middle School's Veterans Day assembly will be especially meaningful to the school's eighth-graders.

Led by eighth-grade teachers Eryn Killingsworth and Bryce Albertson, the students have been interviewing veterans to produce posters for the assembly. Killingsworth said the project is a way for students to connect with the community, noting how many students didn't realize some family members served in the military until starting the project.

"Some of the girls learned their art teacher was in the military, and their respect skyrocketed," Killingsworth said.

The students, Killingsworth said, were trained on how to interview before reaching out to veterans. Killingsworth explained that the project is meant to showcase veterans' stories in a respectful way.

"I compared their stories to a game where you try to carry an egg across a room on a spoon. That's what we're doing. These are their memories, and we're trying to carefully deliver them to the public," Killingsworth said. "I think it's made the students a little more respectful, too."

As part of the project, Killingsworth and fellow eighth-grade teacher Albertson taught the novel "Fearless." The novel, Albertson said, is about late Navy Seal Adam Brown. Before joining the Navy, Brown was addicted to crack.

"It goes through his process of kicking his addictions. It's about never giving up and never quitting. It shows it's not too late to change if you're headed down a bad road," Albertson said.

Brown's sister, Manda Brown Atkinson, spoke about her brother at an assembly on Friday. Brown Atkinson was joined by Tommy Ratzlaff's sister, Julie Adams. Ratzlaff, a Green Forest native, was killed in 2011 when his helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan.

Students were encouraged to ask Atkinson and Adams questions at the assembly, echoing their Veterans Day project.

The students appear to have enjoyed the project. Kate Powell, who interviewed her grandfather, recalled being surprised at how many exciting places those in the armed forces get to visit.

"I was thinking they go and fight and some people get killed, but now I think about how my Papa Danny went to Hong Kong and places all around the country. I really liked doing this project," Powell said.

Mason Hurt concurred, saying she learned more about the draft from her stepfather, a former aircraft mechanic.

"It changed my perspective on a lot of things. The people who got drafted -- they didn't really have a choice at all," Hurt said.

Tyler Stephenson remembered his art teacher describing how he was thrown off a tank.

"He told me a story that he went to South Korea and the South

Korean president gave him a medal for Korean defense," Stephenson said.

Because of the project, Stephenson continued, he has begun to think about joining the armed forces himself.

"I enjoyed it a lot. It made me think deeper of what I want to do for my career when I get older. I'm thinking I want to be in the Navy, and I want to defend my country," Stephenson said.

Kristie Nance, who interviewed her grandfather, said the project helped her understand the reality of war.

"He told me a story of what happened when he was driving down the road in an SUV and people just started shooting at him. I was surprised when I heard that," Nance said.

Kennon O'Roark interviewed his great-grandfather, saying the two now have a closer bond because of the project.

"He hasn't told very many people about his military experience, and I am one of them," O'Roark said.

The students will display their posters at an assembly at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11, in Bobcat Gym.

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