Fairmont Elementary sixth-graders learn respect for flag

FLAG ETIQUETTE — Fairmont Elementary sixth-grade teacher, Jim Buss, left, and Fairmont Legion member Devin Haegeman show students how to properly fold a flag at the school. The Fairmont Legion recently donated a new flag to the elementary school, which the sixth-grade students raise and lower every day.

FAIRMONT — The local American Legion donated an American flag to Fairmont Elementary School this week. It will fly outside, where members of the sixth-grade class will raise and lower it every school day.

Devin Haegeman, current vice commander of the Fairmont American Legion and a former National Guard member, was at the school to present Jim Buss’ sixth-grade class with the new flag on Thursday.

While this is Buss’ fifth year as a teacher at the school, three years ago he and his class took over responsibility of raising and lowering the American flag outside the school every day. Now, the whole sixth-grade class participates. Buss shared how that came to be.

About three years ago, he noticed the flag was quite worn out, so he purchased a new one for the school. When the flag was switched out, the custodial staff asked Buss if he would be interested in taking over responsibilities of the flag with his class.

“We talked it over with administration and decided it was a good idea,” Buss said.

When asked why he wanted to get the students involved in the task, Buss said, “I felt it was good to show the proper respect for the flag. I remember learning those type of things when I was in elementary school.”

Buss said prior to the sixth-graders taking over, the flag had been raised and would stay up at all times, which causes it to wear out quickly.

“A student’s dad in my class was military so he came in and did a quick talk about the flag. We put something about that on Facebook and Devin saw it and reached out about wanting to do something too,” Buss recalled.

That year, Haegeman and some of his fellow Guard members came to the elementary school to give a presentation on how to properly raise and lower the flag. Since then, Buss and Haegeman have kept in contact about the topic.

Buss and Haegeman looked over the school’s flag together on Wednesday and found some minor stains and wear and tear, which means it should be disposed of and replaced. Haegeman called Legion Commander Steve Fosness about donating a new flag. Fosness approved without hesitation.

The next morning, Haegeman brought the flag to the school and showed the new batch of sixth-grade students how to properly fold, raise and lower it. They’re using the former flag to practice folding using the proper technique.

The flag is raised every school day at 8:15 a.m. and lowered at 2:45 p.m. Three students raise it in the morning and three others lower it in the afternoon. An adult always accompanies them, as the students cannot reach the rope.

There’s six classes of sixth-grade, so each homeroom takes a week, and then they start the schedule over. Every student has a chance to partake if they wish. It’s not required for students to participate, but is encouraged.

“After the first year of doing it here, that sixth-grade class moved to the high school and two of those now seventh-graders started doing it at the high school,” Buss said.

“It’s a big job for a student and they take it seriously,” he said.

As Buss pointed out, students learn more than just the mechanisms of raising and lowering the flag. They also talk about the history of it, why it’s important to respect the flag, and when and why to put it at half-mast.

“It’s great to see the Legion interact with us and we look forward to working with them in the future,” Buss said.

Haegeman said the Fairmont American Legion, which has about 235 members, supports many local youth programs through donations, and donated more than $70,000 in 2018 alone.

“Every veteran or current service member I have talked to about what Jim does is absolutely blown away and honored that a sixth-grade science teacher would take the time to teach students something so important,” Haegeman said.