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Why #WeAchieveTogether: Medal of Honor Character Development Program

November 13, 2019 - Student Success

Why #WeAchieveTogether is a weekly blog from our Achievement Schools. It highlights the outstanding work of our staff and the high quality programs that help our students succeed.

This year, Shields Middle School in Ruskin launched the Medal of Honor Character Development Program.

Teachers across the country created the free curriculum to provide students with opportunities to learn the important concepts of courage, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism, integrity and citizenship and how these values can be used every day in their lives.

“It focuses on character development within the students,” said Marlena Pagan, a Shields English Language Arts Teacher.

Shields Middle School Assistant Principal Miriam Duran used the program when she was at Riverview High School and saw the positive impact it had on students and the school—and  was excited to implement it at Shields.

“I’m an Army brat, but it’s not because of the military aspect that I enjoy these lessons, it’s because of the values that are engrained in each lesson,” said Duran. “We’re teaching kids to respect and honor one another. It all kind of snowballs into an ideal classroom environment.”

Dozens of teachers from Shields Middle School, like Eighth Grade English Language Arts Teacher Efrain Troche, took part in training this summer to prepare to incorporate the lessons in the classroom this semester. Troche, whose father served in the military, applauds the program for teaching students that ordinary people can face great challenges and still make the world around them a better place. 

“Real-life heroes from our own history can serve as a model to help learn about what it really means to sacrifice, what it really means to show courage,” said Troche. “Not only do they try to understand the content, they try to make it a part of who they are and how they guide their choices throughout life.”

Paula Meckley, Director of the Medal of Honor Character Education Program, says each lesson highlights skills such as writing, collaboration and critical thinking and can be used in a variety of subjects to spark conversations about values and character.

“You have to learn reading, writing and math to be successful, but to be a good human being, service above self is just as important—that’s the lesson the Medal of Honor is trying to get across to students,” said Meckley. “The Medal of Honor is the highest military award given out by the President of the United States. There are 71 living recipients.”

One of those recipients is 72-year-old Gary Beikirch. The United States Army soldier received the Medal of Honor in 1973 for his actions as a combat medic in the Vietnam War.

“When I started teaching about Gary Beikirch and they were watching his video, they were all fully engaged,” said Pagan. “We are honored to have Gary here to be able to speak to the students.”

Beikirch recently visited Shields Middle School to share his story with students.

“Our camp came under siege. We were surrounded for 30 days by 10,000 of the enemy soldiers,” explained Beikirch. “It was during that time, during the siege, I was wounded three different times, but knew I had the duty to do and perform. I just kept on doing what I was trained to do—until I collapsed.”

Beikirch explained that he struggled while trying to transition from military to civilian life after the war. It was while living in solitude he received word that President Richard Nixon wanted to honor him for risking his life and going beyond the call of duty.

“I lived in a cave for two years in northern New Hampshire—trying to just sort out and heal from the war. It was while I was in the cave that I was notified that I was being award the Medal of Honor. The Medal represents millions of men and women who everyday serve, who have served and continue to serve even today.”

Beikirch travels to schools sharing the meaning of the Medal with students in hopes of inspiring them to act selflessly and make a positive impact in their school and in our community.

“The Medal is worn to share a message that there’s a different way to live your life—it’s caring for others more than yourself.”

“He taught us that when you’re scared, you shouldn’t hide. You should come out and tell people how you feel, and that will help you,” said Shields 8th Grader Jacob Martinez.

“To never give up, be something that you really want to be, do what you want to do in life,” said Shields student J’mai Thornton.

Students have pledged to uphold their Shields Sailfish values:








“They’ll take these values with them and just change the world one student at a time,” said Duran.

This is Why #WeAchieveTogether.

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