Flagler County Veterans Services Officer David Lydon said schools' interest in the county's Veterans in the Classroom program has been dwindling.
For the past 20 years, the veterans, who are typically retired commissioned officers, have been coming into the classrooms during the weeks leading up to Memorial Day and Veterans Day to share their thoughts about the meaning of those holidays, what it means to be an American citizen and respecting the American flag.
Formerly, his office received 80 to 100 invitations for veterans to speak to the students before each holiday. Those invitations have been steadily drying up, Lydon told the School Board on June 20 during the board meeting's public comments session. Leading up to Memorial Day this past spring, Lydon’s office received one classroom invitation, he said. Last Veterans Day, there were just 10.
His concerns go beyond the Veterans in the Classroom program. The honor cord program, initiated in 2018, provides red white and blue braided honor cords to high school seniors joining the military to wear on graduation day. In recent years, fewer guidance counselors have been providing Lydon’s office with names so the graduates can receive their cords, he said.
We are concerned that competing ideologies have diminished the importance of veterans and what they mean to America.” — DAVID LYDON, Flagler Count Veterans Services Officer
Gary Owens, who has held various leadership positions in American Legion Post 115 and other veterans organizations, followed Lydon to the podium at the June 20 board meeting and said the American Legion received just two applications from Flagler County students for the Boys State and Girls State leadership programs this past year, adding that there has also been lagging interest in the Legion's scholarship programs.
“We are concerned that competing ideologies have diminished the importance of veterans and what they mean to America,” Lydon concluded in his comments. “I implore the School Board to hear these concerns, to not let the school district distance itself from incorporating veterans and the values that they have to offer into the classroom or as an interactive complement to the state's civic literacy requirements.”
Less than a week after his comments, Lydon did hear from the school district. He said Amy Ferrer, the district’s teaching and learning specialist for social studies, spoke with him about ways to get veterans back into the classrooms.
Ferrer told the Observer that with a civics summer camp currently going on at the Government Services Building, the staff has invited one of the Veterans in the Classroom speakers to talk with the campers.
Lydon said Ferrer told him that the weeks leading up to Memorial Day and Veterans Day are crunch times for teachers, so maybe veterans can come during other times in the school year.
Ferrer said she will try to increase participation in the program.
“I already work with the schools and send out the information when Mr. Lydon sends it to me,” she said. “But he and I can work together a little bit more to follow up after the initial information is sent, so that we can see how many are participating and see if we can increase that number.”
Lydon said it’s understood that school visits were suspended or discouraged during the pandemic, but even before COVID, classroom invitations for veterans were plummeting.
He said after speaking to Ferrer he is hopeful there will be a place in the classrooms again for veterans to share their values with a younger generation.
“It’s looking positive right now,” he said.