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Olalla Elementary finds unique ways to honor veterans

Olalla Elementary School student Hailey Richardson waits to give a rose to a veteran during last week’s Veterans Day concert. - Chris Chancellor
Olalla Elementary School student Hailey Richardson waits to give a rose to a veteran during last week’s Veterans Day concert.
— image credit: Chris Chancellor

The standard Veterans Day assembly often features a keynote speaker who participated in combat.

Olalla Elementary School does it differently.

And, based on its reception, successfully. The school drew a large crowd in its gymnasium, which consisted of parents, community members and veterans for both its morning and evening musical performances Nov. 8 to honor veterans.

“I must say that Mrs. Niemi is the best music teacher I’ve ever worked with,” Olalla principal Kristi Rivera said. “She is talented, dedicated and inspires others through music. She always goes above and beyond to serve our students and community.”

Lisa Niemi, whose fifth- and sixth-grade students performed five songs during both sessions, each lasting an hour, said the event became popular enough that she decided to add an evening concert last year.

“It’s just been growing bigger and bigger every year,” Niemi said. “At Olalla, we honor veterans. This easily is our biggest event of the year.”

She estimated that 40 students performed during the morning, but not all could attend the evening concert. In addition to students, teacher Wendy Jelinek performed a solo to “There She Stands” as the crowd watched a video tribute in the dimmed gym.

“We like to weave teachers in as well,” Niemi said.

During the performance, students also presented veterans in the crowd with roses. Niemi said she overestimated the amount of roses they would need this year, but planned to take the remainder to the Washington State Veterans Home at Retsil for its Veterans Day festivities.

Niemi said Olalla has had a musical assembly to honor veterans for at least a decade. Preparation for the event begins annually about two weeks after school begins in September, which allows them to learn some of the songs, while focusing on other work, as well.

Many of the songs have been used for several years. Niemi said that is because students enjoy them and insist that they sing them again. She also “grabs cool songs” that are applicable to the performance when she hears them.

Niemi said it culminates in an event that honors veterans and informs students.

“We need it lively,” she said. “I want to teach kids things they’re excited about and they can relate to.”

 

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