H.E. Corley Elementary School students thank first responders at 9/11 gathering

An H.E. Corley student proudly shows off his handiwork before the school welcomed first responders for a thank-you lunch in honor of 9/11. Photo courtesy of Lexington-Richland Five.

An H.E. Corley student proudly shows off his handiwork before the school welcomed first responders for a thank-you lunch in honor of 9/11. (photo courtesy of Lexington-Richland Five)

A Lexington-Richland Five school continued a 9/11 tradition Wednesday and allowed its students to show their appreciation in person to those who keep them safe in their community.

First responders from the Irmo Fire Department, Richland County Sheriff’s Department and other area agencies joined H. E. Corley Elementary School faculty and students for lunch Wednesday. The school began the thank-you gathering and observance of Sept. 11 in 2002.

“It’s something we’ve done since the tragedy happened twelve years ago,” said Assistant Principal Donald Butler in a district news release. “It’s a fun way for students and staff to give back and personally thank first responders for all they do.”

Emergency and law enforcement personnel still look forward to the event each year.

“It makes us feel good to know that the schools are observing first responders and that the students took the time make place mats for us. We come to this school quite often for career day and other events, and it’s a pleasure each time,” said Irmo Fire Department Capt. Erick Wessinger.

In fact, students gave each first responder who came a handmade gift. They created personalized place mats and mini American flags in art class and proudly presented them Wednesday.

Butler said it was important to the kids to find a way to give back and make the occasion memorable.

“Instead of having a big presentation or assembly we decided to let the students make personalized art work to give to each attendee,” he said. “We thought it would mean more to them, and this way our students wouldn’t lose any instructional time.”

First-year art teacher Kate Montella had a special connection to the observance day. She was in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, and her father was one of many who risked his life numerous times that day.

“My dad was a first responder on 9/11, so I experienced firsthand how much others needed him during the tragedy,” she said. “This is a way for our school to really show first responders that we appreciate what they do every day, and I love the idea of doing something to give back to them.”

“They do so much for us that we could never thank them enough. This lunch is a personal way for our students and staff to have a direct positive interaction with the first responders in our community and show them just how appreciative we really are,” Butler added.

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