Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
Roughly 900 students, teachers, administrators and parents gathered around the flagpole at Callaway Elementary School, not too long after dawn's early light, on Tuesday, to sing to "Old Glory."
The school community, along with students from the Clayton County Public Schools Fine Arts Magnet High School, sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," while members of Mt. Zion High School's Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) raised the flag on Callaway's flagpole.
While most of the attendees sang the words to the national anthem, with their hands over their hearts, band students from the magnet high school provided the musical accompaniment.
The event was done as part of the nationwide National Anthem Project, to celebrate the 196th birthday of the United States' national anthem, said Callaway Elementary School Music Specialist Jo Baker.
"Many people don't know the words to the national anthem, unfortunately, and that's the purpose of the National Anthem Project -- to raise awareness of the words to the song," Baker said.
According to the National Anthem Project's web site, the program was started by The National Association for Music Educators, in 2004, after the results of a Harris Interactive survey showed that two out of three Americans did not know the words to the national anthem.
This was the second time the school has held a "Star-Spangled Banner" celebration, Baker said, but she added that it had been five years since the first celebration. She said a trip to the Washington D.C.-Baltimore, Md., area, that she made over the summer, led to the renewed participation in the National Anthem Project.
"I made a visit to Washington D.C., on the Fourth of July, and then I made a trip to Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, where the national anthem was written, and I was inspired to get our school involved in the project again," Baker said. "I had seen a video while I was at Fort McHenry, called 'In Defense of Fort McHenry.'" The video was about the events that led to the writing of the national anthem.
According to the Smithsonian Institute's web site, Francis Scott Key was inspired to write "The Star-Spangled Banner" on the morning of Sept. 14, 1814. According to the web site, the inspiration came to Key after he saw the American flag still flying over Fort McHenry, after a 25-hour bombardment from the British navy.
In the song, Key references "the perilous fight," with "rocket's red glare," and "bombs bursting in air." The bombardment was part of the War of 1812, occurring only three weeks after British troops set the U.S. Capitol building, and the White House, on fire. "The Star-Spangled Banner" became the U.S. national anthem in 1931, according to the web site.
Mt. Zion High School ROTC Cadet Airman Alexis Flowers, who carried the American flag during the posting of the colors at Tuesday's ceremony, said the emotions invoked by the song come down to a sense of national pride. "It means a lot to me," she said. "I'm a proud citizen, and it makes me proud to be an American every time I hear it."
Baker said learning about "The Star-Spangled Banner" is actually part of the social studies and music curriculum, for fourth-graders in Georgia. "Fourth-graders are required to learn 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' It's part of their curriculum, but the third-graders are doing a pretty good job of learning it already," said Baker.
In addition to the group singing of the national anthem, Fine Arts Magnet High School students performed a play about the creation of the flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the bombardment.
"I liked the play," said Callaway fourth-grader, Ebeni Johnson, 9. "I liked how they speak on the stage, and I liked the costumes they wore. It was an awesome experience. It was such a beautiful ceremony ... The flag means a lot to me, like our justice, and how the British and Americans fought, but we won. I still can't believe the flag stayed up throughout the battle."
Another fourth-grader, Dymon Lavan, also 9, added that the song makes her think about respect for the flag. "It makes me feel respectful, because it shows love, and care, about where I live."