Teacher Bill Jacobs is known for honoring veterans with an assembly he organizes for his special education students, and this year Jacobs himself is also being honored. Jacobs learned earlier this fall that he’d been selected by the Veterans Council of Greater Bridgeport as the Patriotic Teacher of the Year, and he’s being celebrated today at the City of Bridgeport’s annual Veterans Day Ceremony.
The assembly that Jacobs organizes is a little different from those at other area high schools. Jacobs works at Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES) Whitney High School East/West in Hamden. The school serves students 14-21 years old who exhibit a range of cognitive, physical, behavioral, language, and medical challenges, and emphasizes preparing students for the transition to life and work.
Every year the assembly features a guest speaker who is a war veteran — from World War II to Vietnam to Afghanistan — and provides opportunities for the students to participate as well by reading poems, saying the pledge of allegiance, singing songs, and making posters.
The speaker for the first assembly Jacobs organized seven years ago was Joseph Minto, a World War II veteran. Participating in the assembly with the special education students was incredibly moving for Minto. “He talked about his experiences, brought artifacts for the kids to see, and answered their questions,” said Jacobs. “He was impressed that I took the time to do a Veterans Day assembly, especially with special education kids.”
Minto was so impressed that, seven years later, he nominated Jacobs for the Patriotic Teacher of the Year Award.
Last week Jacobs’ students had the opportunity to participate in this year’s assembly, which featured a military intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is currently employed by ACES as an individual aide to one of the students.
“What’s particularly nice about this year’s assembly,” said Jacobs, “is that a student was chosen to emcee it all the way through. Students need the opportunity to try something like that.”
The Veterans Day assembly isn’t the only patriotic activity Jacobs organizes for his students. Every Memorial Day he leads a groups of students to place flags on Veterans’ graves.
“It’s important to honor our Veterans and it’s also a learning experience for the kids,” said Jacobs. “They begin to ask questions about the ages of the Veterans who have passed away, the branches of the military, how old the tombs are. We’ve even come across graves from the Civil War, so it’s a history lesson for the kids.”
This is Jacobs’ 42nd year at ACES, and he continues to get a lot out of working with his students. As a vocational teacher he has the opportunity to go out into the community and prepare his students for the next phase in their lives. “It would be hard to give that up and go work in a regular public school.”