By Kim Howard
When a UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter flies into Williston next Wednesday and lands behind Williston Central School, there should be no need for alarm.
Vermont Army National Guard Cpt. Doran Metzger (a relative of Central School teacher Ann Steinmuller) and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Keith Roy (a Williston dad and Williston School Board member) will bring the chopper to school as part of a unit of study on the Middle East.
The chopper is part of the MEDEVAC unit, what Roy said is “the most deployed unit in the state of Vermont.” Roy served in Iraq for 12 months last year transporting wounded soldiers to the hospital.
Wednesday’s school presentation will give Roy and Metzger the chance to practice landing the chopper in a confined area and to give students in Verve House, about 80 students, a tour of the cockpit and expand their understanding of Iraq by hearing about their experiences.
“Obviously we want to stay on the positive side, and stress the fact that the MEDEVAC unit is not a combat unit,” Roy said. “Our business is lifesaving.”
Teacher Ann Steinmuller got the idea of asking if the chopper team could come when she heard Metzger was visiting her niece’s school. Students there had kept in touch with Metzger by mail when he served in Iraq.
Each year Verve teachers organize a two-week interdisciplinary unit that helps students learn more in-depth about a certain area. Last year students studied Russia. Focusing on the Middle East, Steinmuller said, seemed like an obvious choice this year.
“We just felt there is so much going on in that area,” she said. “Kids just didn’t have a good understanding of the Middle East and why we’re in the situation we are in there, too.”
In the first week of study, students selected three of six seminars to attend on topics including religion, history, art and culture, women’s issues, and terrorism and security. In the second week, students chose one area on which to focus, research and complete a project.
Eighth graders Corinne Vien, Lauren Meunier and Kaya Yurieff researched two famous women of Middle Eastern descent and created podcasts – downloadable computer presentations with voiceovers – about what they learned. After typing “famous women in Middle East” into a Web search engine, Corinne said, they picked the two that seemed most interesting: Queen Noor of Jordan and Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian American, who was the first woman to take an independent space flight.
Lauren said she is glad she learned more about women’s lives in the Middle East.
“I’m lucky, when I’m older I can divorce and pick who I want to be married to,” she said. “Women in the Middle East don’t get that right.”
Sixth grader Becca Janney and seventh grader Brittany Mount created a model of a bunker in which al-Qaeda members might live, based on photographs sent to her by her father who is sometimes sent overseas with the military.
Learning more about the region’s history and conflicts in areas other than Iraq helped Becca broaden her understanding, she said.
“I understand the Middle East a bit more for what it really is and I don’t think everybody is a blood thirsty tyrant trying to kill me and my fellow country people,” Becca said.
Cody Fischer, a sixth grader, is excited about the helicopter lesson next week since “people who’ve been all over the place” will accompany it.
“We’ve never had any big thing come to our school but this is going to be exciting for all the kids,” he said.