HaineFloorShot4SPRINGFIELD - It’s not often that an idea that came up during a fifth grade class discussion makes it to the Statehouse, so when the Senate voted 55-0 on Senate Bill 1703, students in Matt Maddox’s fifth grade class erupted in cheers.

Last year students at Columbus Elementary school in Edwardsville wondered why there isn’t an official day to recognize veterans who served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Saint Louis had hosted its first welcome-home parade for Iraq veterans. Several students attended and they wanted to know more about why there was not more discussion about veterans.

“Many fifth grade students were born in 2001, [these wars] is all they have known,” Maddox said. Maddox, a National Guardsman, talked to his students about ways of recognizing veterans. As a group they decided that having a statewide day to honor these veterans was the best option.

The opportunity to pursue this idea came when State Senator William Haine (D - Alton) visited Columbus Elementary around Veterans Day. Maddox’s students pitched Haine the idea of making a statewide holiday. Haine agreed and decided to sponsor a bill.

Senate Bill 1703 adds Oct. 7 to the list of commemorative holidays recognized by schools statewide. These holidays are regular schooldays set aside for students to study and reflect on special days of cultural, civic or historical importance. October 7 marks the beginning of the United States’ military operations in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

As a Vietnam War veteran, Haine was proud to sponsor the bill.
“The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq both began with vocal public support, but—as they have raged on—public awareness has drifted away from the past and ongoing sacrifices of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines,” Haine said. “By officially recognizing the beginning of these wars, educator and students will be able to explore their impact.”

Maddox and his students were in constant contact with Haine and learned first-hand about how a bill becomes law. They eventually watched it pass the Senate online. “It’s neat for them to see that when they come up with a good idea, they can approach their elected officials and see that they can change their state,” Maddox said.
“Many times as teachers we get caught up in the things we have to do, and we don’t give students something that will stick with them,” Maddox said. “Twenty or thirty years down the road these students will be able to think about Oct 7. and say, ‘hey we helped accomplish that.’ They’ll be able to take that with them the rest of their lives.”

Senate Bill 1703 now goes to the House for a vote, and Maddox is hopeful that it will pass, “the kids have already been getting representatives to co-sponsor it.”

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