Keeping Old Glory flying at their school

Posted:  Friday, November 2, 2018 - 8:00am
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The Stars and Stripes are in good hands at Wiscasset Elementary School. Twice a day, a group of dedicated fifth graders carries on the time-honored tradition of raising and lowering Old Glory along with the State of Maine flag.

About eight months ago, Justin Stygles, who teaches fifth grade at the Federal Street school, succeeded in getting responsibility for the flags back in the hands of students. They’ve been up to the task come wind, rain and snow!

“They do an amazing job,” wrote Principal Stacy White in an email to the Wiscasset Newspaper after a reporter was surprised at seeing the students respectfully lowering the colors at the end of the school day one recent sunny afternoon.

Stygles said since school resumed in September all 13 of his students have taken a turn working “Flag Duty.”

“We raise the flags before 8 a.m., just before morning meeting. Since we normally eat breakfast at that time, those who have chosen not to eat are offered the opportunity first,” he explained.

“There’s a group of six to eight kids who really enjoy the assignment, sometimes giving up their breakfast to take part,” he added.

The fifth graders take the responsibility seriously. Everyone expects to see Old Glory flying on the flagpole on the school’s front lawn.

Stygles teaches his students the proper way to raise, lower and fold the flags. The triangular folding of the American flag is pretty tricky business. When it’s done correctly, the field of blue displaying the white stars should be on the top with the flag’s end tucked snuggly inside the fold. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and often takes three students working together.

“The material of the flag, or the condition of the flag itself makes quite a difference in how well it can be folded,” explained Stygles.

Raising and lowering the flags can be a challenge, too, especially when a strong wind whips them around and around. Emmy Blagdon remembers one day the wind was blowing so hard it took her and five of her classmates to bring Old Glory safely down the pole.

Noah Ruzyckij agrees working in the wind, rain or on a really cold day can be challenging especially when it comes to attaching and later removing the flags. Hoisting them to the top sometimes requires an extra pair of hands, too.

There’s also the occasional challenge of getting the blue State of Maine flag with its logo featuring a farmer and seaman right side up on the rope.

The students know America’s flag always flies on the top of all other flags, whether it be at full staff or half staff. Maine’s governor ordered flags be flown at half staff recently and the students were careful to see the flags were at about the middle part of the flagpole. When ordered to be flown at half staff, the flag should first be raised to the top of the flag pole before being slowly lowered.

Stygles said responsibility for posting the colors is an exercise in civics and good citizenship, a hands-on lesson instilling respect and pride in Maine and country. He learned these things at a young age in the Boy Scouts and having a father serving in the U.S. Air Force.

“I don’t know how many other elementary schools do what we do, letting the students raise and lower the flags, but I’m proud our administration here sees the importance of us doing this,” he added.

At the end of the school day both flags, properly folded into neat triangles, rest on an oak desk in Stygles’ classroom where they’re ready for service the following morning.

Along with Blagdon and Ruzyckij, other fifth graders who have regularly taken on Flag Duty this year are Madelynne Richardson, Kacey Pinkham, Aja Lescault, Gabby Dodson and Garrett Marshall.

You can learn more about U.S. flag etiquette at www.usflag.org