- Associated Press - Sunday, November 15, 2020

BEATRICE, Neb. (AP) - Due to COVID-19 and restrictions on large gatherings, Beatrice Public Schools cannot have its regular Veteran’s Day programs this year.

But that hasn’t stopped students from participating in creative ways to honor veterans.

Last Friday, six students served as representatives of Beatrice Middle School and gave $2,037.63 towards Veterans Memorial Park, located south of the Big Blue River on U.S. Highway 77. The donation will cover six sets of flags displayed at park, which are changed twice a year. With help from a local veteran, the students raised the flags: one for each branch of the military, with the American Flag and a Prisoner of War/Missing in Action flag displayed at the park’s center.

Michael Policky, BMS’ eighth grade American History and civics teacher, told the Beatrice Daily Sun that the school’s Veteran’s Day program has been a tradition for over 25 years, and that he and history teacher Ben Essam still wanted students to participate somehow. To provide encouragement, Policky said if $1,500 was raised, he would let the students shave his head.

With help from a $350 donation from Pinnacle Bank-Beatrice, the students were able to exceed that goal.

“My head of hair is a small sacrifice compared to what my family and the local men and women have sacrificed and given for me,” Policky said.

Two students from each grade were randomly chosen to attend the flag ceremony: sixth graders Ethan Cerveny and Savannah Bolli, seventh graders Claire McGrury and Saige Kobes, and eighth graders Isaias Achtemeier and Tobin Robinson.

Following the ceremony, the students and Policky returned to school so Policky could get his head shaved by sixth grader Jada Berke, seventh grader Cole Karlin, and eighth grader Jon Lindell.

“I donated money to show appreciation to them for all the hard work that they’ve done for us,” Achtemeier said.

“It’s very important, because they do so much for us, and it would be silly not to do anything for them,” Robinson added.

Flags for Veteran’s Memorial Park are typically funded by the Beatrice Rotary Club Foundation.

Verdella Vetrovsky, the branch president, told the students that the park was dedicated in 2005, when it had roughly 900 veteran’s names inscribed on the memorial. Today, Vetrovsky said that number is roughly 1,800.

“On behalf of the Rotary Foundation, we want to say thank you,” Vetrovsky said. “This means a lot, especially since it came from you guys at the middle school. Just think that every time you drive by, these flags are from you. We just hope that you will respect the flags and enjoy it every time you drive by.”

Beatrice High School held a live streamed Veteran’s Day ceremony on Nov. 11 at 10a.m.

Policky said the school has not decided at this time whether to fundraise for similar community and veteran-related projects in the future.

“Collecting a few dollars is pretty minor, compared to what they’ve given, so it’d be kind of nice to continue doing that. We’ll just have to see where life takes us… It just helps (students) understand that freedom isn’t free. It comes at a cost, and it comes with a sacrifice,” Policky said.

Policky thanked the veterans in attendance and those whose names are inscribed on the memorial.

“They’re the true heroes,” Policky said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

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