McIntosh Middle School world history teacher Jill Rothenberg's challenge has been the same for more than a decade—make sure her students know and thank veterans.
But before they could do that, some of the sixth and seventh graders she teaches had to first learn what a veteran is.
"Most children didn't know who a veteran was, and most kids did not know the names of the five branches of service," Rothenberg tells Patch.
Since 2000, Rothenberg has organized a large Veterans Day program at the school to put the faces of veterans in the community front and center so the kids can see the veterans who are living in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Veterans from Sarasota and Manatee counties are invited to participate at the program scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. Friday inside the McIntosh Middle gym.
"They just have to show up at 9:15 a.m., and I'll give them a donut and a coffee," Rothenberg said to entice veterans. The assembly is open to the public as well.
But it's the pomp and circumstance of the assembly that gives both veterans adn students pride, she said.
Each veteran lines up according to their division of service, and the band plays each service song for each branch of military, all for a Walk of Honor.
"We have veterans with wheelchairs, walkers guide dogs—it doesn't matter how long it takes. We'll keep playing the song over and over," she said.
The students of course, had plenty of homework to do for this unit. Kids had to ask their parents to see if they had a veteran in their family and then research and write about them.
Then, they had to learn the difference between a veteran and a combat veteran, she said.
"They both deserve our respect because they were willing to serve our nation anyway they could," Rothenberg said.
The assembly also includes a speech from Rebecca Ludwick, president of the Sarasota Veterans Commission.
The school also partnered with Manasota Operation Troop Support, to write letters to soldiers from Sarasota and Manatee counties who are stationed in Afghanistan, too.
Rothenberg like many families in America, has a special connection with veterans in her family.
Her father, Sherwin Rothenberg, fought in Okinawa and Peleliu as a Marine in World War II. He even lied about his age to get into the service, she said. He was 17 when he entered.
"My biggest regret what I never did this program before my dad died," she said. Sherwin passed away in 1987.
Rothenberg's uncles were in World War II, in the Navy and Air Force, a brother-in-law was an F-15 fighter in the Air Force, and her maternal grandfather fought in World War I.
And a lot of that personal history isn't something that could be taught in a book—and in Sarasota County, these wars literally cannot be taught from a book because they're not mentioned in the textbooks used for the middle school world history courses, Rothenberg said.
So Rothenberg and fellow teachers band together to create a war unit covering 19th and 20th century wars to teach about the sacrifice people make. And as complicated as wars can be, the end result is simple.
"I told the kids there are no winners in war," Rothenberg said.