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GLOCESTER - Wreaths Across America, a non-profit organization that recognizes the courage and sacrifices of U.S. veterans, will make its third annual stop at Ponaganset Middle School on Tuesday, where hundreds of students will cheer and welcome Patriot Guard Riders who will lead a convey of Wreaths Across America tractor trailers packed with 150,000 Maine-made balsam wreaths.
The wreaths are making their week-long journey from Washington County, Maine, to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The caravan is expected to arrive at Ponagansett Middle School around 10 a.m. Tuesday and depart at noon to continue on to Connecticut.
Ponaganset Middle School was once again the only school in Rhode Island selected to host a stop by the Wreaths Across America program. The WAA selected the school as a ceremonial stop to recognize the faculty and students for their work to connect students and veterans and teach the values of freedom.
According to school officials, the school participated in the program two Decembers ago when wreaths were placed at the World I, World War II and Korean War monuments in front of Glocester Town Hall. In addition, teachers at the school are taking time to instruct their eigth-grade students about veterans in their midst. In turn, students at the school have been participating in "adopt a veteran" programs and sending care packages to veterans overseas.
"Ponaganset Middle School has worked in the past with Wreaths Across America,â€ť explained Janet Ragno, assistant principal and coordinator of the event. â€śTwo years ago, Wreaths Across America contacted Ponaganset Middle School and asked that our school be their ceremony site, citing the schoolâ€™s commitment to this program."
The Wreaths Across America convoy will roll down Putnam Pike into Chepachet and along Chopmist Hill Road and Rustic Hill Road. Like last year, residents and businesses along the route will be outside to wave flags and greet the caravan.
Last year, four trailer trucks full of wreaths, arrived at the school, led by an escort of Glocester and Foster police. Veterans from both towns were invited to the ceremony, which included a luncheon and speaking program. The Middle School band and chorus played a number of Patriotic songs and a special slide show paid tribute to Glocester and Foster veterans both living and deceased. The sixth-grade students also presented homemade Christmas wreaths for veterans who attended the ceremony.
Similar plans are being made for this year's event.
Wreaths Across America began more than 18 years ago when the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrinton, Maine, began a tradition of placing wreaths on the headstones of the nation's fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery during the holidays. Patriot Guard Riders, a worldwide motorcycle and motor vehicle group with more than 15,000 members nationally, along with other support groups, escort the tractor-trailer trucks loaded with donated wreaths from Maine to Virginia.
Worcester Wreath Company continues to be a major supporter of the project, donating over 25,000 total wreaths in 2008. Over 100,000 wreaths will be sponsored by individuals, businesses, and groups from communities nationwide.
Wreaths will be placed in all 50 states from Maine to Alaska and Hawaii, at several locations is Iraq, and at 24 national cemeteries on foreign soil.
"Wreaths Across America is a nationwide organization today, still with the goal to place a holiday wreath on every grave at Arlington National Cemetery," said Michael A. Calenda, an eighth grade social studies teacher at Ponaganset who is helping coordinate the event. Ponaganset Middle School has been working with WAA since 2007 to connect students with veterans and the organization has been a perfect match."
The first year, he said, students at Ponaganset Middle School started out small with a wreath laying ceremony at both the Foster and Glocester war memorials. Later, Wreaths Across America expressed an interest in coming to the school on its annual holiday trek to recognize the students work and achievement.
"Ponganset staff and students have become very involved with WAA. They write letters to Rhode Island veterans and send care packages overseas,"' Calenda said. "The curriculum developed at Ponaganset was adopted by the Wreaths Across America organization and is presently being used at schools across the country."