At Big Lake Elementary School, it's become a tradition as reliable as Veterans Day: the annual Veterans Day celebration.

For six years, the students have welcomed in those who've served and in turn, receive a real-life lesson.  

"There's a lot of respect that's due to our veterans that they maybe have not received before, and it's my duty as a teacher, to teach them about the rights they have in public school and that they have those rights because of veterans," said Jousette McKeel, a fifth grade teacher who began the program with another teacher.

On Thursday, the morning began with a breakfast for the honored guests who then sat in the front row of a packed gymnasium. The kids sang various patriotic songs while others took turns playing narrator discussing the meaning of Veterans Day which is this Sunday.

McKeel, a decorated U.S. Army veteran herself served for six years. The military is what brought her family to Alaska and she recalls her time in the service fondly. She also has another good memory: in 2001 she was named soldier of the year.

The idea for the celebration came about while she taught the younger kids "with one kindergarten class and a third-grade class and we invited a group of honor flight veterans into our classroom."

Very quickly, the idea expanded. Soon enough, the entire school was involved. And it makes the veterans, especially the older ones, feel appreciated.

When James Clark, now 87, returned home from Korea, the reception was chilly. Those who served in Vietnam received a similar greeting. Decades later, he's seeing a shift in kids' attitudes and it warms his heart.  

"I was picked to go on the Honor Flight (to Washington D.C.), but this is another example of the young kids, younger people being swayed into patriotism and it's, I think it's absolutely great," he said. 

McKeel agrees and takes this lesson, which could easily be part of a school curriculum very seriously.

"It needs to happen more often, the recognition needs to be there. We owe a lot to the veterans of our country," 

And they're already looking ahead to next year, their seventh. It's even on this year's program.  

Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.

RELATED LINKS: