Instead of learning entirely by textbooks, history students at St. Mary High School are learning about wartime history firsthand from local veterans.
“Students only get what textbooks say about peace and war, and they don’t really get a good description of … local people, and what they contributed and sacrificed,” teacher Dennis Ogrodnick said of his inspiration behind the project.
For the past four years, Grade 11 students have met with local area veterans to hear their stories, recording them for an annual book the school puts out, titled Peace & War: Through the eyes of a student.
“It’s crazy thinking I’d be joining the army in six months, it’s kind of scary,” Grade 12 student Chris Stubbs said.
Last year, Stubbs and a few peers met and recorded the story of Charles Squires, a man who dropped out of school at the age of 13 to help out his family. At the age of 18, he joined the army.
“That’s when everybody joined the army. They didn’t have a choice, that’s just what you did and didn’t really think about it,” Stubbs said.
“When you actually meet them it feels more real,” Grade 12 student Mikaela Gyoerick said.
Last year, she met with Sgt. Louie Olai Olsen, who joined his brothers in signing up for the army when he was in Grade 10.
“It’s inspirational to hear that he sacrificed that in Grade 10,” Gyoerick said.
It’s crazy thinking I’d be joining the army in six months, it’s kind of scary. - Chris Stubbs, Grade 12 St. Mary High School student
The value students have gained in hearing veterans’ stories has been great, Ogrodnick said.
“They get a better understanding of how Canada and how our local people contributed to the war efforts,” he said.
Students have also investigated their personal ties to the military.
Stubbs’ uncle, Marcel Halle, is currently in school in Ottawa, but served as captain in Esquimalt, a naval base near Victoria, B.C.
“It’s incredible that I have a family member who’s done something like that, coming from P.A., just a little city,” he said of his uncle, a 1980 graduate of St. Mary High School.
The lessons learned run deep, with an underlying theme of thankfulness for the efforts of soldiers past and present.
“I learned that I should be more thankful for what I have here, because they gave up so much and had so little,” Gyoerick said.
“They left their family and their friends behind … and they risked our lives for us, and we should definitely be more thankful for that.
The latest Peace & War book is currently for sale at St. Mary High School, with all proceeds going to the Royal Canadian Legion.