Wednesday afternoon, Prairie River Middle School Technology Education Teacher Pete McConnell was joined by a handful of students as well as Never Forgotten Honor Flight (NFHF) Co-Founder Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) James Campbell, parents and MAPS staff and Board of Education members, for the official presentation of 100 hand crafted pens to be given to veterans participating in the next Honor Flight, to lift off from Central Wisconsin Airport on May 22; bound for the various war memorials in Washington D.C.
The pens are a product of the “Freedom Pen” program, spearheaded by McConnell.
The roots of the program began in October, when McConnell was awarded a $1,000 grant from the “Beyond Crayons and Computers” program.
Funded through the Merrill Area Community Foundation, the Beyond Crayons and Computers program invites teams of teachers from 3-year-old programs through the high school, to submit grant applications that are not only innovative and creative, but also involve parents, teachers and other members of the community.
“I want to create a project that promotes community involvement, technical skill development, volunteerism, and patriotism all at the same time,” McConnell said, during a reception for grant recipients in early November.
Then in January, McConnell brought the Freedom Pen project to fruition, following a trip to Sun Prairie for a day of training with teacher Mike Roth of Cardinal Upper Middle School.
“After I received the grant I was eager to bring this technology to the kids,” McConnell explains. “Mike and his students have been producing the pens for a few years now, so I went down to Sun Prairie to learn the ropes. When I got back I couldn’t wait to get started making these awesome pens.”
As fate would have it, a phone call from McConnell to Campbell regarding the pens would prove to be music to Campbell’s ears.
“When Pete first called me about this, the timing could not have been any better!” Campbell adds. “It just so happened the Tech Ed teacher in Wisconsin Rapids, who had been leading the project to produce pens for our veterans, recently retired. We were looking at sending our last box of pens on the April flight – that is until I heard from Pete. I just couldn’t believe it!
“It’s great on so many levels to have communities reaching out to us, especially schools. To see teachers and students willing to get on board to help us is amazing. We have received so much support from so many schools and communities in our 12-county district; from kindergarteners doing fund raisers to students of all ages writing mail call letters to our veterans. And now we have an entire tech-ed program reaching out to make pens for us. These pens are something the veterans have come to cherish, they see them as a keepsake. I can’t begin to express how appreciative we are.”