HUGHESTOWN — Patrick Bilbow, principal at Pittston Area’s Martin L. Mattei Middle School, had one rule about the annual Veterans Day breakfast on Tuesday — veterans had to sit with students.
Bernie McDonald, commander of the AMVETS Post 189 in Dupont, took full advantage of this request, asking the students where he should sit. Students raised their hands and pleaded for him to sit with them.
McDonald took a seat and immediately started chatting with several fifth-grade students.
This marked the second year the middle school hosted local veterans for the breakfast hosted by fifth and seventh grade student council members.
“They’re asking me what I did, did I like it and about the food,” Bernie said of his conversation with students.
Madyson McDonald, 10, asked what Bernie does nowadays to which he responded that he’s the commander of the AMVETS.
“Oh, so you don’t kill people?” she asked.
Bernie laughed, said no, and said the interactions were what he enjoyed most about the breakfast.
“I enjoy it a lot,” he said. “This is why we do what we do. We love being with the kids.”
Bernie was one of six members of the AMVETS in attendance, but also on hand were members of the Pittston Area School Board, including Martin F. Quinn.
Quinn is a veteran himself, having been drafted to the Army in the time frame between the Korean and Vietnam wars.
“I didn’t crash the party; I got invited,” he said of being drafted.
He was surrounded by 10 seventh-grade students asking questions and showing interest in what he had to say, and also talking about other things such as school and sports.
While the students were learning from Quinn, he was also learning from them.
“You can always learn something from seventh-graders,” he said. “That’s, I think, the start of high school and that’s where they’re going. When you’re doing well in seventh and eighth grade, you’re going to do well in 12th grade.”
Bilbow was thrilled with how the day was going, and said he didn’t want the students to learn about veterans by reading about them in a book.
The social interaction, he felt, was the best way to teach.
“This experience of having this breakfast with veterans, for our students, makes it a very real event as opposed to us telling them why Veterans Day is important,” Bilbow said. “It was right in front of them, and they were able to directly speak to the person.”
As much as he hopes he students took a lot out of the experience, Bilbow hopes the veterans took something away from the breakfast, as well.
“I hope that they enjoyed themselves and I hope that they enjoyed being able to connect with the young people in the Martin L. Mattei Middle School,” he said. I also hope that our veterans walked out the door having a sense of appreciation and leave here saying, ‘Wow, this place and these kids get it. They know why we have Veterans Day.’”