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September 19th, 2019

patriot dayFlags fly proudly in the air at a recent edition of Cottonwood Elementary’s Patriot Day program. This year’s event will take place Wednesday morning at the Liberal school in remembrance of Sept. 11, 2001. L&T file photo/Robert PierceROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times


Nearly two decades ago, planes flew into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a moment which many would consider changed history forever.

Not long after Sept. 11, 2001, a school in Liberal began remembering that day with a special annual ceremony, and Wednesday morning beginning at 9:30, Cottonwood Elementary will again host its Patriot Day to honor military and first responders.

The tradition was started by former Cottonwood music teacher Becky Robison, and after last year’s Patriot Day under the direction of fellow former Cottonwood music teacher Julia Hartlage, this year, first-year teacher Nathaniel Lee has gotten his chance to put together Wednesday’s program.

Lee said he is trying to carry on the torch from Robison and Hartlage, and he is getting a little help from Robison herself.

“She’s really helped me by giving me ideas on how to get the kids started. I came into this job, and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, and Patriot Day’s coming up.’ I go ‘What’s that?’ I got worried about it, but now, I’m not so nervous about it. I think it’s going to go great next week,” Lee said. “She’s going to help me with some things they’ve done in the past since I’m a newbie and not for sure what exactly is going to be going on, so it should be a great presentation.”

With Patriot Day falling so close to the beginning of the school year, Lee said practice was a little rocky at first.

“They remembered doing it last year with the last teacher of course,” he said. “Coming back and having someone completely different take over is really an eye-opener for them. They were surprised about me being here and starting that again, but they took it on. It was a couple of days of work. We had to put things into heavy gear to make sure they got everything down.”

Lee said he found ways to simplify the process of putting a Patriot Day program together for Wednesday.

“It didn’t take too much extra work and it came out smoothly and naturally,” he said. “I think the parents want to see their kids up there doing something. You can make it as fancy as you want, but the real reason is as long as they see their kid up there, they’re happy.”

Cottonwood was formerly an intermediate school with only grades fourth through sixth, but with the school bond passed earlier this decade, the school is now K-5. Since then, more grades have become involved with Patriot Day, and Lee said this can provide some challenges to planning a program.

“I’d say kindergarten was a little rough at first, but we’ve got them settled down,” he said. “Fifth and fourth grades have been very great as far as grouping everyone together, and I feel like when we go outside to do that, they’re going to help the young ones out a lot because they’ve done this a couple of years. I’m not worried about the older ones. I’m a little worried about the middle age and younger, but I feel like they’re going to be fine. They know what to expect and how it’s going to be done.”

Lee said it was one of his mentors, Prairie View Elementary music teacher Claire Thompson, who put him in touch with Robison, who now works as a speech teacher at Prairie View and was Lee’s piano teacher at Seward County Community College.

“I was in show choir at Seward County,” he said of Robison. “When I went to Seward County, she was doing the accompaniment. It was nice to have her around.”

With 9/11 falling close to the beginning of the school year, Lee said he also felt a little rushed to put a program together.

“I was really nervous talking about this,” he said. “(Robison’s) like, ‘It’s all going to work out.’ We had a vision together. She was going to collaborate with me a lot. We had this vision going on, and after that vision was set in stone, we just worked our way from there, and everything just seemed to go naturally.”

As for this Wednesday, Lee said people can look forward to seeing all the familiar faces of heroes and learning about them.

“They’re going to be talking about their lives and what they do for a living in the classrooms. Just seeing a bunch of our people who have helped keep us safe work together,” Lee said. “The songs are a way of us showing respect and giving respect for what they’ve done for our country, keeping us safe. It’s probably going to be very impactful, which is great, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Current Cottonwood students were not alive when the events of 9/11 took place, and this makes it a little more difficult to teach them about the significance of the events of that day. Lee said, though, a few of the school’s students are somewhat familiar with the historical event.

“There was one class that when I mentioned Patriot Day, they were like, ‘Oh, you mean when the towers hit,’” he said. “I was really impressed and thought ‘Wow, it’s great they know that.’ I want to try to make something to go with all of this so they’re a little bit more familiar with it and what is going to happen, why are we doing this, what’s the cause for this to happen – 9/11 – and showing them the history about that.”

Lee said Patriot Day is meant to be a celebration of coming together and remembering a day that, for most, will never be forgotten.

“It shouldn’t be erased from us,” he said. “It should be a way to remember something that definitely changed our country and just giving them a chance to see what this is all about.”

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