Take a Vet to School Day 2017
Students and teachers at Columbus Elementary School had the opportunity to honor many of Westchester’s veterans on November 9th this year. The 3rd annual Take a Vet to School Day, celebrated two days before Veterans Day, was a wonderful way to say thank you to the men and women who have served our country and also a great learning opportunity for young students. The event was the brain-child of Columbus teacher Christine Galbo, whose father served in Vietnam. Mrs. Galbo, along with numerous teachers and staff members, worked tirelessly months in advance to plan a morning of festivities for more than 60 local veterans.
The first event of the day was a PTA sponsored breakfast at 8:30 a.m. The cafeteria was bedecked in red, white and blue while student representatives (many of whom had grandparents, parents, and friends as their visiting vet) welcomed the guests with coffee, bagels and muffins. The atmosphere was lively as uniformed veterans intermingled with teachers and schoolchildren.
From there, the vets were escorted to individual classrooms to share their stories and experiences with the kids. Each class hosted from 2 to 6 veterans. Many shared photographs, maps, and showed off the clothing and uniforms they wore while they were overseas. The kids were fascinated, asking thoughtful questions and listening intently to the responses.
Finally, at 10:00, the whole school gathered in the gym for a 45 minute assembly to formally honor the visitors. Physical Education teacher Sean Mayer served as Master of Ceremonies. The veterans marched in and took seats of honor at the front of the room. The Boy Scout Honor Guard presented the colors, then US Army Ranger Mike Gallo, joined by Girl Scout Emma DiAndrea and Cub Scout James Nealy, led the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star Spangled Banner. After introductory remarks by Principal Michael Cunzio, County Legislator Margaret Cunzio bestowed a proclamation stating that November 10, 2017 will be known as “Mrs. Christine Galbo Day” in honor of the dedication she has shown in supporting the veterans.
The ceremony continued with members of the school’s chorus and band performing a medley of the armed services theme songs as veterans from each branch of the service stood as they heard their song. Next, local Girl Scout Troop 1180 presented food they had collected outside the Acme grocery store to donate to the Montrose Veterans Food Bank. Volunteer Coordinator Duke Sarles gladly accepted the donations explaining the extent of the need to help so many families of veterans after they return from service. Additionally, Girl Scout troops 2768, 2451 and 1224 put together bags of personal items and left them under each veteran's chair.
The audience then enjoyed a slideshow put together by Mrs. Galbo of pictures of the veterans from their days in the service followed by the reading of the names of the vets in attendance. As each name was read, students presented pins to every guest while fifth grade Boy Scouts assisted in creating a large American flag stripe by stripe.
The highlight of the ceremony was a special presentation for veteran Joe Alaimo, one of the bus drivers in the Mount Pleasant School District. A member of the US Navy during the Vietnam war, Mr. Alaimo left high school three months before he was scheduled to graduate. A special program called Operation Recognition allows a school district to grant a high school diploma to veterans who have an honorable discharge certificate and interrupted their time in school for their service. Superintendent Dr. Susan Guiney, Westlake High School Principal Keith Schenker and Board of Education President Tom McCabe were delighted to present Mr. Alaimo with an official high school diploma. The audience responded with a standing ovation.
It was an emotional and heart-warming day and one that will not soon be forgotten by all in attendance.