School Notes: December 2020

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WAHS social studies teacher Elizabeth Mulcahy (left) and senior Virginia Peng were chosen to honor a fallen WWII soldier in Hawaii this coming summer. Photo: Lisa Martin.

Thank You Notes

Fifth graders at Crozet Elementary (CRES) took some time ahead of the Veterans Day holiday to reflect on the lives of local veterans. They then penned letters to those living in Crozet’s English Meadows senior living community. “We are trying to find ways to connect the kids with our content so that they have a personal connection, especially when they can’t get out and do things in the community,” said Betsy Agee, CRES fifth grade teacher. “So, we were trying to give the kids a very personal audience for the purpose of their writing.”  

Communicating with real veterans is an annual activity for the fifth graders. “A few years ago, we started sending messages and making signs and banners for the veterans, and this year we thought since we can’t send those physical things over [because of COVID restrictions] we’ll just do them virtually,” said Agee. “Some of the students chose to write to someone directly, like for instance if they had a family member who was in the military. If they had family members, we let them share a little bit about them with the class.”

The students’ letters were chatty and curious. Some asked which branch of the military the veteran had served in and which wars he had fought in, others asked about the veteran’s favorite color, hobby, or TV show. All of the letters expressed enthusiastic gratitude for veterans’ service, particularly for the rights and freedoms their service preserved for the kids in the present day. A student named Jack included a photo with his message in which he held a photo of his grandfather while wearing the same military hat that the grandfather was wearing in the photo. 

CRES fifth grader Jack expressed his thanks to veterans living at English Meadows in Crozet, and also to his grandfather, whose photo and hat he is displaying. Submitted photo.

“It was a really nice unifying activity surrounding our conversation about government and the election, and it was something that everybody could kind of get behind,” said Agee. “All of the kids were very excited to participate and they all submitted a letter.” Agee said that the Activities Coordinator at English Meadows reported that there are 15 veterans living in their community and that they were thrilled to get the messages. “The notes were just so heartfelt, and some kids whose literacy skills may not be as strong still wanted to write and say thank you,” she said. “It was very cute.”

Given the current COVID-related virtual learning mandate for grades 4-12, the fifth grade is team-teaching this year, so all three fifth grade teachers get on Zoom together each day. They have divided the grade level into two groups and teach a morning and an afternoon group as a team. “It gives us the capability to differentiate things for the kids, and if somebody needs a little extra support or needs to go off in a different direction with an assignment, then we can do that,” said Agee.

Remembering the Fallen

A dynamic teacher-student duo at Western Albemarle High School (WAHS) will be traveling to Hawaii in June as one of sixteen teams selected nationwide to participate in a special National History Day program focusing on military service members who fought and died during World War II in the Pacific. The WAHS team—consisting of social studies teacher Elizabeth Mulcahy and senior Virginia Peng—was chosen out of a field of almost 130 entrants from across the U.S. based on the strength of their application, which honored a soldier with very local roots.

CRES fifth grader Mackenzie expressed her thanks to veterans living at English Meadows in Crozet in honor of Veterans Day. Submitted photo.
“The criteria for the specific soldier we chose were that he had to have served in the Pacific theater in World War II and be memorialized at the Punchbowl Cemetery [National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific] in Honolulu, and he also needed to be from my home state,” said Peng. “I found a list of servicemen who died in the war from Albemarle County and looked at those who fought in the Pacific. I found Lieutenant Bernard C. Harlow, who had actually attended the same elementary school that I did—Meriwether Lewis. After I got to know him better, I thought, ‘This is the guy I want to research.’”

Born in Charlottesville in 1918, Harlow worked as a banker until he was drafted at age 24 into the U.S. Army Air Force, eventually serving as a bombardier and earning a Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal for his valorous service. His B-24 went missing two years later over the Marshall Islands due to unknown causes and was never found. Peng has collected primary resources on Harlow ranging from his birth certificate and military registration to news articles in which he was reported missing and the application for his headstone. 

“I’ve reached out to historians, local communities, and [Harlow’s] relatives to try to find any clues about him,” said Peng. “I know he trained at Hobbs training center in New Mexico, and he had three other brothers who were also drafted and they were from a Virginia farm family.” Peng credits Mulcahy for helping build her interest in history and teaching her the methods used to uncover history on her own. “When you learn about WWII in school, you read a lot of numbers and statistics and you can see how devastating it was, but learning about Lt. Harlow personally like this has definitely made it all closer to my heart.”

Peng will write and deliver a eulogy for Lt. Harlow at his memorial site in Hawaii as part of the project. While the trip was originally scheduled to coincide with the December 7 anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the trip had to be postponed until the summer due to COVID-19 restrictions. Peng has one request of the Gazette readership: she’d love to find a photo of Lt. Harlow and hasn’t been able to locate one yet. If by chance anyone knows where one might be found, please contact the Gazette at [email protected] and we will connect you with Peng. Congratulations, Virginia and Elizabeth! 

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