CHEVY CHASE – Still breathless and sweaty from a shortened recess, the third graders at Rock Creek Forest Elementary School quickly got behind their desks, clasped their hands over their hearts and recited the Pledge of Allegiance at 2 p.m. Friday.
They were joined not only by the rest of their school but perhaps by as many as 52 million schoolchildren in more than 100,000 schools nationwide, in a synchronized salute to the flag Friday.
“I think it is important for kids to do something together to make us feel unified and to celebrate,” said Rock Creek Forest principal Sandra Walker, who led the pledge over the loudspeaker Friday.
The pledge, organized by the nonprofit group Celebrate America, was coordinated across time zones, so that students saying the pledge at 2 p.m. in Maryland were joined by schoolchildren saying the pledge at 8 a.m. in Hawaii.
“I think it is so good when so much is out of control for the children for them to be able to participate . . . so they don’t feel powerless,” said Jerome Erbacher, a parent of a fifth grader at the Chevy Chase elementary school.
U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige wrote principals across the country this week, encouraging them to take part in the nationwide pledge. His letter was followed by a state Department of Education e-mail to local superintendents Thursday, asking them to review a Paige’s letter and to consider participating.
The decision to participate or not was left up to the counties. While Maryland education officials could not provide hard numbers Friday, they said that they expected the majority of schools in the state to participate in the pledge.
“There is a lot of patriotic fervor in the schools right now,” said Bill Reinhard, a state schools spokesman.
For example, all 188 Prince George’s County Schools participated in the nationwide pledge, said spokeswoman Athena Ware. It wrapped up a patriotic day at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, she said, where students began the day with a patriotic pep rally.
“In the light of recent events, students are more aware of patriotism,” Ware said. “The pledge has always been done in our schools, but now the words really mean something.”
At Rock Creek Forest Elementary, teachers and administrators have emphasized patriotism since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Strains of the national anthem floated through the hallways of the school after the pledge Friday, as a music class rehearsed “The Star Spangled Banner” in preparation for performing at a minor league baseball game in the spring.
Posted outside one third-grade classroom is a poster with the words “United States Flag” written in the middle. Around that, students have written words they associate with the flag: war, freedom, justice, bravery and peace.
Third-grade teacher Elise Antoine said it is difficult to explain the global situation to her students.
“They understand that we were attacked and that our leaders are doing everything they can to keep us safe,” said Antoine.
In the week after the attacks, students created a giant American flag in the school’s multipurpose room. Each class placed a cutout stripe or star on the flag, with their thoughts about the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I am sorry for the people that lost others but we still stand strong, USA,” read a message by one student.
“I hope this never happens again,” read another.