Two weeks ago, students at Vincent Massey Collegiate in Montreal undertook the ambitious task of making 17,000 poppies.
But, with only five days left before their deadline, a seemingly impossible goal now appears within reach.
“We’re at 9,150,” said Rocco Speranza, the school’s spiritual care, community involvement and guidance animator, as he gives one class a pep talk while they work on their poppies.
Secondary 1 and 2 students are making poppies to adorn the headstones of Canadian military veterans for Remembrance Day. Just over 200 students, mainly from Vincent Massey, are involved in the project.
“On Nov. 5, we’re going to the Pointe-Claire military cemetery, and we’re laying one poppy behind each soldier that’s buried there,” Speranza told Global News.
The project was initiated by the group No Stone Left Alone. Since 2011, the group has invited students to place poppies on veterans’ graves across the country.
This is the second year Vincent Massey Collegiate is participating.
“They asked us again this year,” explained Speranza. “Being the hundredth anniversary of (the First World War) armistice, we think it’s a good project to be involved with.”
The project means a lot to Speranza personally. For more than three decades, he has been paying tribute to veterans on Remembrance Day.
“I had family who was in World War 2,” he said. “I lost like some uncles.”
WATCH: Remembrance Day poppy campaign begins in Montreal
The First World War ended 100 years ago, and Canada’s last veteran from the conflict, John Babcock, died in 2010. With fewer Second World War veterans left, Speranza doesn’t want kids to forget about these conflicts or the meaning of service and sacrifice. He says that having a hands-on project like this gives young people a connection.
Students at the school say they understand. Thirteen-year-old Maya Longo was emphatic.
“(Deceased veterans) gave their lives so that we can be free, so that we can be in this country safe without any wars around us,” Longo said.
Her classmate, 13-year-old Anthony Franze, agrees, remembering the time a veteran spoke at his old school.
“It was an amazing experience,” he said. “Unfortunately, I can’t remember (the speaker’s) name, but we learned a lot from him.”
Speranza adds that it’s not only about educating and remembering, it’s also about saying thanks to military service members.