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Event will mark launch of vets-focused service learning curriculum

by: COURTESY OF ANDREW DEMKO - Students at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., on a previous educational trip Rainier Junior/Senior High School teacher Andrew Demko's class made to the East Coast.Columbia County will be well-represented at a reception next month in Washington, D.C., to mark the official launch of the Hometown Heroes Service Learning Project.

A Rainier Junior/Senior High School project will be among six “outstanding student pilot projects” on display at the event in the Library of Congress on June 25, according to a release from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which is behind the program.

Hometown Heroes is a voluntary educational curriculum intended to connect students across the United States to military veterans.

Rainier students have been working this year on what the project website calls a “major goal” of the curriculum, gathering information, photographs and stories about local veterans — in Rainier’s case, people from the Rainier area and Columbia County who served in the armed forces, especially during the Vietnam War.

Andrew Demko, who teaches history at Rainier, said in an email to the Spotlight, “Our students have been very interested in learning about the [histories] of local veterans that have served.”

Demko will be attending the reception in the nation’s capital to launch Hometown Heroes. He will be joined by last year’s Rainier History Club student of the year, David Placido.

“We will have a notebook that has all the letters, thank you cards, biographies that we have been collecting for the project and are sending it to VVMF,” Demko wrote.

by: FILE PHOTO - U.S. Rep. Suzanne BonamiciAdditionally, Columbia County’s representative in Congress, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, will be a featured speaker at the event.

Bonamici said Tuesday that she was “honored to be invited” to the project’s launch.

“Service learning is a way to get students actively involved in their community, and this is a win-win, because students are learning history directly from veterans who have served,” said Bonamici, adding, “It’s a curriculum that really works. ... There’s nothing like sitting down with somebody who was actually there on the battlefield to learn.”

Bonamici sits on the Education and the Workforce Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. She also co-chairs the Congressional STEAM Caucus. STEAM is an acronym for “science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.” She compared the Hometown Heroes program to STEAM-based education, saying both work to engage students with hands-on activities.

“Even though this is history, this is very analogous,” Bonamici said.

The reception will take place a little more than a week after Rainier Junior/Senior High School holds a ceremony to honor veterans in the school auditorium on June 14, at 6 p.m.

The ceremony will honor veterans from all conflicts, including World War II, the Korean War, the Gulf War and the ongoing war in Afghanistan, according to Demko.

Demko and Placido will also meet with Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden in Washington, D.C., on June 26, Demko said.

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