The raising and lowering of the American flag at Cloverland Elementary School is carried out daily by a group of well-trained second graders, and by the somber looks on their faces when they carry out the task, they take what they’re doing quite seriously.
Second grade teacher Terry Trowbridge has educated and trained his students about the proper handling of the American flag to serve as the Honor Guard. His entire class participates in this activity and is the only class responsible for this duty.
“The students fold and unfold the flag in accordance with the military protocols that are used worldwide to show honor and respect to our national symbol,” he said.
Trowbridge served in the military for 30 years – four years in the Navy and 26 years in the Air Force. He retired as a Chief Master Sergeant, the highest enlisted rank.
This is the first year that Trowbridge has trained his second graders to carry out the flag duties and he plans to continue with the task each year with new second graders. He has trained sixth grade students in the past about how to raise and lower the flag, but it was carried out in a manner that was more casual and he felt it would be better to have students learn the proper protocols at a younger age.
When the flag is presented in the morning, the students stand at attention and salute the colors while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Following this, they are called to attention, do an about face and march in a single file line back to their classroom where they are dismissed to start class.
“These kids know the reason they’re putting the flag up and down is for the people who died for them to be free,” Trowbridge said.
Previously, the flags were stored in a closet but now they are stored in cases and given a place of honor in the classroom. The students also have uniforms that identify them as Cloverland Honor Guard. The uniforms are pullover vests that Trowbridge purchased and his parent helpers cut out the letters and assembled the vests.
To prepare for their duties each time, the students line up single file outside their classroom, the formation of students is called a “flight.” Following a certain protocol, they then march in line to the flagpole area at the front of the school to perform their duties.
There are two dedicated flight sergeants, sixth graders Dulce Zacapa Rocha and Amelia Hernandez, who show up for their duties every day as well. They control the movement of the flight, when they march and while they perform the duty of raising and lowering the colors. The flight sergeants also accompany Trowbridge’s students when he’s unable to attend the ceremonies.
“We started training at the beginning of the year and it took about a month to get it right,” Trowbridge recalled. “We originally started before school and after school. Now that they are proficient we raise the flag between 8:00 and 8:10 each morning and recover it between 2:25 and 2:40 each day.”
First, he talked to his students about the flag and his service and those who sacrificed their lives defending freedom for the country. He sent a letter to parents explaining his plans and he said that he received a positive response and that the parents have a pretty good understanding of what he’s doing.
“I feel if I can teach these second graders a little bit of respect for this, then it will carry on when they’re older,” Trowbridge said.
He added that when training, the rest of the school had to be trained as well in things such as not cutting through or into the line of students (flight) and not to interfere during the ceremony. He said there was a learning curve and it took a while for everyone to figure it out but now it runs pretty smoothly.
“I love it,” said parent Ashly Ferreira, whose son Brody is in Trowbridge’s class. “There’s a tremendous respect for the flag, which is wonderful.”
She added that when her family sees events on television, such as the World Series, her son stands up and tells everyone what to do when the American flag is presented. She also said that the self-discipline that Brody has learned in the Honor Guard has been reflected at home, too.
The students handle the flag with reverence, never allow it to touch the ground, and fold it properly.
Sierra View Elementary School second grade teacher Linda Kraus happened to be on the Cloverland campus one day at the close of school in time to see Trowbridge’s class marching to lower the flags.
“Having a father who served in the military for 20 years has helped me develop a genuine appreciation for our nation’s flag and everything it represents,” Kraus said. “For this reason, I am delighted that there are children who are being taught the importance of this symbol of our country, as well as the etiquette necessary to be used when in its presence.”
She noted that the seeing the children perform this duty was impressive and she hopes they will pass on the lesson to others in their lives.
“I am very proud of the way my second graders accomplish their duties,” Trowbridge added. “They make my heart feel warm and give me hope for the future.”