EAST MANATEE -- Parents dressed in some form of red, white and blue filed Tuesday into Freedom Elementary School's cafeteria to watch their children honor veterans and first-responders while celebrating the school's 10th anniversary.
An elegant version of "God Bless America" played in the background as 760 Freedom Falcons took their seats on the floor for opening remarks, which included a Color Guard presentation of the U. S. and state of Florida flags, the reading of the school's mission statement, the singing of the school song ("...Freedom's a flame that burns within ya, Freedom's in the state of mind...") and a special anthem for each branch of the military and first responders.
"The kids feel good that they're supporting our veterans. They'll be singing these songs for months now," said Bonnie Christian, a technology teacher who organized the event.
Freedom Elementary, the only Manatee school not named after a person or place, was built around the time of Sept. 11, 2001. When it was finished in July 2003, founding Principal Gary Holbrook wanted its name to be unique.
"He wanted the theme of
freedom," said current Principal Jim Mennes.
Since the school was named Freedom, its mission has always been patriotic.
"Our main goal is to teach our children gratitude," said assistant principal Laura Campbell. "That's the goal here, and we really try to encourage it."
Music teacher Rick Bogner, who has been at Freedom all 10 years, said the goal has remained the same while the school greatly expanded.
"We've grown. We have more students, staff and classrooms now," he said.
Students filed out of the cafeteria, followed by parents and about 30 veterans and first-responders, to the school's courtyard, where they raised flags for each branch of the military. A bell was rung nine times by pre-K and kindergarten students to celebrate soldiers past and present.
"It's education and history. It's so important that kids understand what went on and what we've done," said Vietnam Army veteran Denny King.
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.