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STAR Teachers Make WWII Come Alive for Students

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In an effort to recognize exceptional teachers who use creative ways of teaching about WWII in their classrooms, The National WWII Museum has developed a STAR teacher feature on our Education Blog. Each quarter, one or more national teachers will be highlighted for their innovative and often interdisciplinary work in making the lessons of WWII come alive for their students. This month, we are featuring the transatlantic collaboration of two teachers, John Nitcy from Sandpoint High School in Idaho, and Christelle Zuccolotto, a teacher of English from Sainte Foy la Grande Junior High School in southwestern France.

It all began when John Nitcy, a high school business teacher in Sandpoint, Idaho, was inspired by a 2011 visit to The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, to develop an Honor Flight Club for students at his school:

Nitcy:  “In 2011, I visited the [National] WWII Museum in New Orleans and watched a movie called Beyond All Boundaries. That movie left an impression on me and helped me [to] realize the great sacrifices made for future generations. When I returned back to Idaho…I realized that as a teacher, I could actually try to thank these veterans, so I started the Honor Flight Club at our school….The purpose of the club is to raise money to send WWII veterans to Washington, DC to visit the memorials built in their honor…[Each] Veterans’ Day, my club shows a movie called Honor Flight–One Last Mission to the whole freshman class. We also ask for a $5.00 donation which we give to Inland Northwest Honor Flight (INWHF). The club has generated more than $7,000 so far and all funds are donated to INWHF.”

A chance meeting that John had with a French educator at the Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center in Idaho, helped transform the local work of the Sandpoint Honor Flight Club into a transatlantic collaboration. For years, Christelle Zuccollotto’s bilingual student project, “Operation Band of Brothers,” had been teaching French middle school students about the important legacy left to them by the WWII generation who freed the French from Nazi occupation. Each year after corresponding with WWII veterans, Christelle’s students create a bilingual exhibit about the war and travel to Normandy to visit the beaches and other historic sites.

This year, in honor of the 70th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, John’s Honor Flight Club students made two memorial wreaths for Christelle’s students to lay during their school trip to Normandy. The Sandpoint high school students made one wreath in remembrance of Idaho-native, Frank Bradetich, who died on June 6th, 1944, and was buried on a hill overlooking Omaha Beach. The American students wove together flowers, along with the American, French and Idaho state flags to make Bradetich’s wreath and sent this, along with a letter from Bradetich’s family, to be laid at Frank’s grave by Christelle and her students. Christelle’s students also wrote and read a tribute to Bradetich and his sacrifice in French and in English.

A second wreath, honoring all of the veterans from Bonner County, Idaho who died in World War I through the most recent war in Afghanistan, was made by Nitcy’s Honor Flight Club students. The wreath featured red paper poppies, each with the handwritten names of one soldier, in remembrance of the 103 soldiers who were lost. This wreath was set adrift by Christelle and her students at Utah Beach after a moving ceremony.

While not every teacher can create a transatlantic educational project like Nitcy’s and Zuccolotto’s, we hope that certain elements of this collaboration, like the development of an extracurricular club to honor veterans or a local wreath-laying project and dedication ceremony, inspire other teachers to find meaningful ways to make the lessons of WWII more relevant to their students.

To learn more about John Nitcy and the work of his Sandpoint High School Honor Flight Club, as well as their collaboration with French teacher Christelle Zuccolotto and her students, please visit the Sandpoint Honor Flight Club website. To nominate or learn about previous STAR teachers, visit the Museum’s STAR teacher page.

Post written by Megan Byrnes, K-12 Curriculum Coordinator at The National WWII Museum.

This Veterans’ Day, help The National WWII Museum thank over 1 million veterans by sending a personal “Thank you for my freedom” message at myveteransday.org.

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