Fraser teacher honored by VFW

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published March 9, 2016

 On Feb. 23, Kelly Jenks, a sixth-grade teacher at Salk Elementary in Fraser, was given an award by members of Fraser VFW Post 6691 for her encouragement of civics and American history in the classroom, especially regarding
Veteran’s Day.

On Feb. 23, Kelly Jenks, a sixth-grade teacher at Salk Elementary in Fraser, was given an award by members of Fraser VFW Post 6691 for her encouragement of civics and American history in the classroom, especially regarding Veteran’s Day.

Photo by Sean Work

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FRASER — All Kelly Jenks wanted was for her sixth-grade Salk Elementary class to appreciate and respect military veterans.

But in doing so, the teacher received quite a bit of gratitude in return.

On Feb. 23, Jenks was inundated with praise by members of Fraser VFW Post 6691, and also received admiration from the very students she teaches.

VFW members honored Jenks with an award given to teachers who exemplify teaching in citizen’s education topics, as well as promote America’s history and traditions effectively.

Jenks’ honor comes as a result of teaching her class about Veteran’s Day and Armistice Day, then asking the students to write letters to veterans thanking them for their service.

After the letters were written, she said she had no idea where to actually distribute them. She was aware of the Fraser VFW Post and thought it would be a good place to go.

“I walked in and was handing (the letters) out, and I was really astonished at how surprised (the vets) were and how thankful they were,” Jenks said. “I kind of figured this would be the fifth letter they had (on Veteran’s Day), and it wasn’t.”

She later went home and then described her experience via email to the students and their parents.

“The kids said that it made them cry because I expressed how the vets had tears in their eyes,” she said.

VFW members in attendance in Jenks’ classroom on Feb. 23 included Active Commander Larry Rosseel; Junior Vice Art Chavez; Steve Gerebics, president of the men’s auxiliary; Linda Mentink, the women’s auxiliary scholarship chairman; and Michelle Brzuszek, VFW youth co-chairperson.

Jacob Dubay, 11, accepted Jenks’ award on her behalf, receiving the certificate of recognition from Brzuszek.

“Nobody had ever done that before,” Brzuszek said of the letters. “Some men cried, some laughed, all smiled.”

Rosseel then spoke to the class, explaining that Jenks was honored by their specific VFW post. If she is honored at the district level — which includes several posts in the region — then she would continue on to the state and national levels, accordingly.

“Even if she doesn’t win, she’s our teacher of the year,” Rosseel said, with students responding with smiles and cheers.

The VFW Teacher of the Year prize — also known as the Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award — is sponsored by the national VFW and is given to teachers who promote civic responsibility, flag etiquette and patriotism.

The contest recognizes three teachers at three different levels — elementary, junior high and high school — who can win multiple prizes: a $1,000 award for professional development expenses; a $1,000 award for his or her school; award plaques for both the teacher and the school; and an all-expenses paid trip to accept the award at a VFW conference.

To even be mentioned in the conversation, someone has to nominate the teacher. Salk Elementary Principal Donna Anderson wrote a letter advocating for Jenks.

“It has been noted by not only her colleagues, students and parents, but also our Fraser community of the efforts Kelly takes to ensure her students understand civic responsibility and Americanism,” Anderson wrote. “She provides her students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate pride for their country and involvement with community. This past Veteran’s Day, Kelly went above and beyond with her teaching, which prompted this nomination. … When Mrs. Jenks went the extra mile by delivering these letters in person, she made an impact on her students, their parents, her colleagues and the veterans.”

Jenks said the students are always looking out for vets through projects such as making Valentine’s Day cards and distributing them at local apartment complexes where veterans live.

It’s part of a bigger picture of civic responsibility and patriotism, she said. For example, her classroom has a board on the wall that explains what Miranda rights are and how they are tied to veterans and military members fighting to keep those rights alive in the United States.

The class also started a water drive for Flint residents and participated in a “great mail race” to write letters to students in every state to tell about their own veteran experiences.

Jenks, who currently has no immediate family members serving in the military, but has older family members who are vets, said what she has instilled in her students is not just for vets. More so, it’s how thankfulness and respect should be offered every day, to parents and friends and anyone else through random acts of kindness.

“I was just so surprised that (vets) go unrecognized nowadays,” Jenks said. “Back in the day there were all these parades and people thanking vets all the time.

“I feel like that’s slowly going away and it’s kind of sad because they do protect your rights, and even if they don’t see war they’re doing a lot for you.”

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