They stood together, socially distanced, on Ernie Gates Field at Washington Elementary School Thursday afternoon. Red, white and blue colors fluttered in the air as about 100 elementary students moved their streamers, ribbons and plastic tablecloths and played their rhythm sticks to the music of “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”
Thursday is Constitution Day, a day that celebrates the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.
Heather Aune, who teaches music at Washington Elementary, conducts the program each year on Constitution Day with all the students in the school. The songs are the same each year and the routines for the students are, too. But the program couldn't be held in the gym as usual because of the need to safely distance due to the coronavirus pandemic.
So Aune came up with the idea to use the football field for the short program, which wasn't just about Constitution Day.
“... our kids are getting to do something together where that’s been taken away from them since March … and to be able to celebrate something and look forward to something as a group - I think it’s really, really special for our kids,” Aune said. “That they don’t have to be isolated from one another, that they get to be together and they’ve been working towards a common goal and they’ll all get to achieve it together. That, to me, is a tremendous opportunity.”
Jennifer Jung, principal of Washington Elementary, said school staff coordinated with maintenance staff to ensure that the use of the football field for practice and the program would not interfere with their work or damage the field.
“It’s just a great space for the kids to still be able to do a performance, which they have not done anything as a whole school because we haven’t been able to have a whole school assembly because of this (pandemic),” Jung said. As the school year kicks off, it’s traditional to have a school assembly, she noted. But that wasn’t possible this year.
“This is a real cool opportunity for the kids to just do something as an entire school,” Jung said.
The song “You’re a Grand Old Flag” played as each grade performed its routine simultaneously to the song ranging from clicking rhythm sticks to waving patriotic streamers and moving around with red, white and blue plastic tablecloths to create a pinwheel.
Aune also received permission from the publisher of the song to broadcast it live and to have the rights to broadcast for a month.
“Normally it’s up to 45 days to get permission and I got it the same day so I was really excited,” Aune said.
While the program itself was very brief and included a short presentation from fourth-graders on the Constitution and concluded with the “Star Spangled Banner,” Aune said the subject is important.
“... Sometimes I think the kids kind of lose some of the excitement of patriotism,” she said. “And our nation has gone through so much, even just this year - and when 9/11 happened I think we were more aware of our patriotism.”
She said the event is a celebration with students on what the U.S. is about, why its people have the freedoms they have, why they’re important and protect citizens.
“I think it’s important that kids are educated about it but also to celebrate that we’re a country that gets to do things that other countries don’t have those same freedoms,” she said.