Exceptional Academy student Chloe Foster-Blythe adorns a veteran’s grave with an American flag at Maple Leaf Cemetery in Oak Harbor, May 17, 2021. (Photos by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times)

Exceptional Academy student Chloe Foster-Blythe adorns a veteran’s grave with an American flag at Maple Leaf Cemetery in Oak Harbor, May 17, 2021. (Photos by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times)

Exceptional Academy students help effort to honor veterans year-round

Students participated in the Flags and Flowers initiative for their annual service project.

Students from Oak Harbor’s Exceptional Academy paid homage to veterans last week by decorating veteran graves in three Whidbey Island cemeteries.

Exceptional Academy students select and complete a service project every year. In the past, they’ve volunteered with such groups as Habitat for Humanity and the Garage of Blessings.

This year, they decided to honor deceased service members through Veterans Flags and Flowers, an initiative to remember veterans year-round, not just on the usual holidays.

“Their unwavering commitment to our country led to many sacrifices teaching us how a life of service should look,” reads a statement from the school. “By giving them the year-round respect and honor they deserve, we are following the path they established.”

In the spirit of the initiative, the group intentionally selected days other than Memorial Day to complete their project. They kicked off their campaign of remembrance the morning of May 13, when they visited Sunnyside Cemetery in Coupeville, then spent the afternoon at Fircrest Cemetery in Oak Harbor. They wrapped up their tour Monday morning at Oak Harbor’s Maple Leaf Cemetery.

At each grave in each location, their routine was the same. One gravestone at a time, students swept grass and debris from the stone, stuck a small American flag and a homemade, weather-proof poppy in the grass, and held a brief moment of silence. They then thanked each veteran by name. In total, the group honored around 200 veterans.

Exceptional Academy student Pablo Closson called the project a “sign of respect” for all those who served their country during their lifetimes.

“It’s more important for their memory to live on, to ensure that people will know that their sacrifice and their effort wasn’t in vain,” he said.

Closson’s own father served in the military. He said that even though the recipients of this service are deceased, he felt it was well worth the time to honor them because he has seen first-hand the great lengths military personnel go to in their service to their families and their country.

“We’re just one class, but one class can make a huge difference,” he said.

The school’s statement also acknowledged the good this service project did for the students who participated.

“This undertaking has taught us patience, teamwork, problem-solving and above all respect. Respect for one another’s ideas. Respect for a different perspective. Respect for different approaches to a solution. Respect for those who protect us and our country,” the statement said.

Pablo Closson decorates a veteran’s grave at Maple Leaf Cemetery.

Pablo Closson decorates a veteran’s grave at Maple Leaf Cemetery.

Exceptional Academy students decorated veterans’ graves with American flags and homemade poppies.

Exceptional Academy students decorated veterans’ graves with American flags and homemade poppies.

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