PELAHATCHIE, Miss. – Students in Belinda Willis' first-grade
class at Pelahatchie Elementary School in Pelahatchie, Mississippi,
created construction paper flags for Veterans Day 2014. When they
made their artwork, they had no idea it would result in a special
The class donated the flags to a local restaurant to
be given to service members during their meal.
Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Darren Mitchell, operations noncommissioned
officer with the 412th Theater Engineer Command, received a packet
of coupons and various offers during his dinner on Veterans Day, but
one item in his packet really struck him.
U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Darren Mitchell, operations noncommissioned officer with the 412th Theater Engineer Command, speaks with students at Pelahatchie Elementary School during a visit to the school to recognize one of the students
on January 21, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Debralee Best)
“I thought it was really interesting, in my bag I saw an
American flag that was made from construction paper that was
very creative with a star on it,” said Mitchell.
wanted to meet the child who created something so dear to
him, he said.
Mitchell arranged to meet the child,
Amora McDiffett, 7, in Willis' classroom Jan. 21. He thanked
the entire class for their efforts in supporting the troops
and presented Amora with a 412th TEC pin.
students have been shown first-hand how important it is to
do their very best no matter the task,” said Mijia Ward,
assistant principal, Pelahatchie Elementary School in an
email. “Pelahatchie Elementary has never had anyone get
recognized for a piece of artwork that wasn't submitted for
a contest or competition. These students did this project in
class recognizing veterans for their service and in return,
one of their classmates, Amora, was recognized. I think this
will make the students take more time and effort on their
work and other activities.”
During his presentation,
Mitchell had to pause and collect himself while speaking to
the class because the visit had a strong effect on him.
“Just to interact with the young kids and to see how they
acknowledge the members of the military that support and defend this
country, just the reaction on their face is just heart fulfilling to
me: To see how much the kids really appreciate the American
Soldiers,” he said. “I got a little compassionate and had to pause
when speaking to the young kids. It was a great opportunity just to
share, just to be in the mix of the kids and acknowledging them for
appreciating the Soldiers.”
While Amora was recognized, Ward
believes this visit was inspiring for another student as well.
(Left to right) Diana McDiffett,
grandmother, Belinda Willis, Pelahatchie Elementary School
first-grade teacher, U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Darren
Mitchell, operations noncommissioned officer with the 412th Theater
Engineer Command, Amora McDiffett, 7, and Dama McDiffett, mother,
pose for a photo after the presentation of a 412th TEC pin to Amora.
Mitchell received a construction paper flag made by Amora in Willis'
class on Veterans Day. Mitchell recognized Amora with the pin for
her support on January 21, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Debralee Best)
“The visit from Sgt. 1st Class Mitchell meant a great deal for
not only Amora McDiffett, but for several students in Mrs. Willis'
first-grade class,” she said. “However, It gave one specific little
boy the opportunity to see a Soldier in uniform, up close. He had
recently mentioned he wanted to be a Soldier in the Army. In
addition, this same student was able to stand next to Sgt. 1st Class
Mitchell to lead his class in the Pledge of Allegiance.”
saw this as a rare opportunity for the school.
“This kind of interaction under normal
circumstances wouldn't happen, because we just don't have many
volunteers from the military in our school,” she said. “We do have a
few parents who are in the military but seldom visit the school in
uniform or can volunteer their time due to work schedules.”
Mitchell saw this as fortuitous to do something constructive for
“It gives the kids a chance to value us in
uniform and see a positive role model: Encouraging them to do
something effective for their country, state or even for
themselves,” he said. “Being a positive role model is the most
important of it all.”
This interaction was also helpful to
encourage the children to work hard to succeed.
“I think it
is important for these visits to occur, because we can always tell
people what we are doing, but seeing it in action makes a huge
difference. Our students know that we love them, want the best for
them and expect them to do their very best work,” said Ward. “By
allowing visitors to come in the school only adds value to what we
communicate to our students daily. When students know other people,
outside the school, care about their success it inspires them to
work even harder.”
The visit also provided affirmation to
those at the school for the work they are doing.
honored that Sgt. 1st Class Mitchell chose to spotlight one of our
students. His visit was what the students and teachers of
Pelahatchie Elementary needed to continue being encouraged and
motivated to work hard and strive for excellence,” said Ward.
“Our Pride Pledge that we recite daily is as follows: ‘I am
Polite, I am Responsible, I have Integrity, I am Determined to be
the best, I strive for Excellence, I Am the Pride of Pelahatchie.'
As we recite this pledge each morning school is in session, we want
our students to exhibit some part of the pledge each day,” she
added. “The recognition of Amora let's us know that we are working
in the right direction and doing the right things for the students
and community of Pelahatchie, Mississippi.”
By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Debralee Best
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