EMSB students honour veterans virtually and in-person on Remembrance Day

Click to play video: 'Honouring veterans from a distance during the pandemic' Honouring veterans from a distance during the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic means Canadians are honouring veterans a little differently on this Remembrance Day. Mike Drolet looks at how that's affecting tributes, and veterans themselves – Nov 11, 2020

Kids and staff at English Montreal School Board (EMSB) schools found a way around COVID-19 pandemic restrictions to honour current and former armed forces members — and to say thanks.

Since the usual gatherings for Remembrance Day were out of the question, this past summer the school board’s spiritual and community animator, Rocco Speranza, came up with a way to mark the day.

“To pass the poppy virtually, a symbol that represents peace, freedom and democracy,” he told Global News.

Read more: More than 200K Remembrance Day masks sold across Canada to raise funds for veterans

People were video-taped picking up a poppy and handing it off to a virtual person offscreen to symbolize the passing of a poppy person to person. The videos were then combined into one five-minute presentation posted online.

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“The intent was simple: just to get all the students in the school involved, and a simple way to connect and wear a poppy,” Speranza explained.

Veterans, service personnel, students and even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau got involved.

At John F. Kennedy High School in the Saint-Michel neighbourhood, one of the schools that took part, students were happy they pulled it off.

“I find it really cool how we’re doing this right now to remember everyone and everything that took place back then,” said 13-year-old Santhia Thurairajasingan.

She and classmate Sarah Chiby, also 13, were able to meet briefly with former student and veteran John Segretti. Both teens said they were thrilled that they were able to do something to honour him and other veterans for Remembrance Day.

“Well, I found it really interesting because I’ve never done something like this before,” said Thurairajasingan.

Speranza said the goal was to teach students about the contribution of some citizens during conflict or even peacetime.

“Recall the Canadian Forces presence helping out during the pandemic and also with the floods a couple of years ago,” he said.

Read more: COVID-19 poses problems for Quebec legions’ poppy campaign

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Segretti agreed.

The former corporal, who served in places like Haiti with the Royal Canadian Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, said he started visiting schools for Remembrance Day while he was still in the military. He pointed out that when students hear from younger veterans like him, with whom they can connect, it helps.

“Just remember what we have,” he said. “People sacrificed so that we can have what we have today.”

A replica of the Brooding Soldier — a First World War memorial in Saint-Julien, Belgium, that stands in a hallway at the school — helps to serve as constant reminder.

The gravity of war isn’t lost on Thurairajasingan and Chiby.

“We talk about how like how it would be if we were in their place, if we were there back then and how it would’ve felt,” Thurairajasingan said.

At 11 a.m., the whole school fell silent for two minutes to reflect.

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