Posted January 22, 2018
Students in Julie Kohlmann’s third-grade class at Parkview Elementary School were sitting on the floor, listening to literacy coach Stacey Ross share a story about a military family being reunited.
The students wore red paper hearts with the name Nolan on them, a show of support for a classmate whose father has been deployed overseas for the past year.
After the story, Mrs. Kohlmann – wearing a patriotic scarf – played the song “God Bless the USA.” Nolan, sitting with his classmates, felt someone tap his shoulder. He turned to see his dad, Sfc. Ethan Feldner.
Father and son hugged, then moved to the front of the classroom, where the students serenaded them with a song from their Veterans Day program. Sfc. Feldner then brought in a big bag of gear and let students try on his helmets, bullet-proof vest, and goggles. He talked about his job as a military mechanic, shared photographs, and answered lots of questions.
As Nolan walked out with his dad, all students and staff lined the hallways for a “clap-out.” Students clapped, and little ones offered high-fives. Some held posters and flags, and some thanked him for his service.
Mrs. Kohlmann had learned only two days earlier that learned that Sfc. Feldner was returning and wanted to surprise Nolan.
“I first had tears and a stomach drop because I could only imagine how amazing this was going to be for both dad and Nolan,” she said. “I knew this was a big, big deal. I envisioned the reunion and started brainstorming ways to magnify the significance of this very special event.”
She couldn’t tell the class for fear that they would leak the secret. But she instructed them to wear red, white and blue the next day and had them make flags – for what they thought was a Martin Luther King Jr. Day activity.
“Almost scary coincidentally, I came upon a Scholastic News while I was organizing on Monday evening,” she said. “The cover story was about a military family being separated and then reunited. It was from November, but I had set it aside because at that time it would have been too painful for Nolan.”
Mrs. Kohlmann recruited Mrs. Ross to read the article to the class, and instructed the students to tape on their paper "Nolan hearts" as a reminder to keep him in their hearts as they listened. Meanwhile, she met Sfc. Feldner in the school office and escorted him to the classroom.
In addition to creating a memorable moment for Nolan and his dad, Mrs. Kohlmann wanted all of her students to experience something special: “Coming together to support a military family who has made a sacrifice that we cannot take for granted,” she said. “‘Give Love’ is our class theme this year, and I think this event did just that.”
“I sincerely thank Ethan for his service to our country and thank him for letting us be a part of this magical reunion,” Mrs. Kohlmann said. “I feel honored to have been able to be a part of it.”
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