Veterans honored at student-planned program

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Rich Leibering of Huntingburg, left, shakes hands with Southridge High School junior Sam Sermersheim after the Veterans Day program at the school in Huntingburg on Monday. Sam is the grandson of veteran Raphael Schaefer, who also attended the program and shared poems he had written about his service.


HUNTINGBURG — Raphael “Rafe” Schaefer’s voice broke as he shared the story of how he lost his best friend, Thomas Tucker, in the Vietnam War.

Schaefer was one of about 20 veterans to share about themselves and their service at Southridge High School’s Veterans Day program Monday.

Less than an hour before Schaefer spoke in front of the whole student body, he shared a more detailed account of his service with students in Erica Hohl’s American literature classes at a special reception to honor the veterans. This year, American literature students planned the school’s Veterans Day program for a project-based learning opportunity.

“It’s great,” Schaefer said. “I am thankful that the schools do [Veterans Day programs].”

Schaefer has been attending Southridge’s Veterans Day program for 11 years.

Veteran Raphael Schaefer looks toward the flag during the national anthem at Southridge High School's Veterans Day program at the school in Huntingburg on Monday.

During the reception, he shared poems he’s written about his time in the U.S. Army. For Schaefer, the poems are a way to cope with the post-traumatic stress disorder he was diagnosed with as a result of his service. His grandson, Sam Sermersheim, is an American literature student this year, and he read one of his grandfather’s poems during the schoolwide Veterans Day program.

The reception, which was only for veterans and the American literature students, was a new addition to the program that the students came up with to thank the veterans in a more intimate setting and to allow themselves an opportunity to interact more with the guests.

In addition to the reception, the students also updated the videos used in the schoolwide program and added a fundraising component to the planning process. For the fundraising portion, the students raised money for local veterans organization Team Red, White and Blue.

It was a project the students have been working on since September alongside their more traditional coursework.

“I think it taught us a lot about time management,” said Jaime Matthews, who was part of the reception committee. “We had a lot of deadlines we had to hit.”

Allen Niehaus, right, talks to Rich Leibering and Eugene DeMotte, all of Huntingburg, during Southridge High School's Veterans Day program at the school in Huntingburg on Monday.

Jaime said she and her classmates also learned more of the history behind the day. For example, several of them didn’t know that Veterans Day takes place on Nov. 11 to commemorate the armistice that ended World War I.

This is the first year Hohl has had her students plan the Veterans Day program. She came up with the idea after attending a Magnify Learning project-based-learning training at Hub 19. In project-based learning, students take on long-term projects designed to make them tackle real-world problems and engage with the community.

Planning the Veterans Day festivities is the first of several projects Hohl plans to have her students complete throughout the year.

She was impressed with how well the students worked together to put the program together. With 90 students all having to work together, it was hectic at times, but she believes her students learned a lot about communication and teamwork. She’s happy with how the project went and plans to do it again next year.

“I think each year, we’ll challenge the students to rethink and keep making the program better,” she said.

Southridge High School seniors Jeffrey Echeverria, left, Austin Kaeck, and Grace Meece are recognized for their decision to join the military after graduation during Southridge High School's Veterans Day program at the school in Huntingburg on Monday.

More on