“I thought it was just a decoration,” said sixth-grader Jackson Lambitz, remembering the first day he saw the tree. “I didn’t really think much about it - only that it was kind of strange to have a Christmas tree up the first day of school.”
Classmate Allie Saunders admits she was also a little confused. “Why a Christmas tree? It’s way too early for the holidays, if we’re being logical,” she said.
Sprague didn’t leave her students wondering for long. “I usually have a few students who ask about it the first day of school,” she said. “So I tell them about a student I taught in middle school who went on to serve his country in Afghanistan where he was killed in action.”
The student Sprague is referring to, is U.S. Army Cpl. Nicholas Roush. He was killed in August 2009 while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom. “When I started getting ready for the school year in 2009, it was a really sad time,” said Sprague. “Then as I was getting Christmas decorations ready for my room, it reminded me of the families who won’t be able to be together for the holidays. I decided that as long as I teach I will keep a tree up all year decorated in red, white and blue colors to honor our military families.”
Saunders said now that she understands why the tree is there, she’s happy to see it every day. “It’s a special memorial for people who served and for our country and our pride. And it’s a reminder to never forget their sacrifices,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful thing and I think it definitely brings a lot of joy to people.”
Lambitz agreed. “It’s perfect. I love it.”
The small tree has a special place at the back of the room on the end of the counter. Its lights are only turned on for special occasions - Patriots Day in September, Veterans Day in November, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Memorial Day in May.
“I want students to look at this tree and be filled with gratitude for the people who protect our freedoms,” said Sprague. “That’s why it’s here. To remind them, not just of the people like Nick who died, but all the people who serve for our country. We go about our daily lives with school and home and family, and sometimes we forget.”