A buzz of excitement filled the small gym at Stepping Stone School in Tyler as a teacher passed out American flags to a group of preschoolers.
The children rushed to their feet and threw their hands in the air hoping to be given their own flag to hold.
Once the flags were distributed, the children grasped them in their small hands and waved them back in forth over their heads.
However, something else soon grabbed their attention.
The room grew quiet and the children stared wide-eyed as the figures of Betsy Ross, Martha Washington and Lady Liberty took their seats before them.
“It’s the Statue of Liberty!” a child called out.
Children and their parents gathered to celebrate the nation’s birthday with a program presented by community members including participants from the Ms. Texas Senior America pageant who dressed up as historic patriotic figures. The program’s theme this year was “Lady Liberty.”
“I think that they (the students) need to know that the Fourth of July is more than just hamburgers, hotdogs and firecrackers,” said Camille Brown, founder and executive director of Stepping Stone. “We want the children at Stepping Stone to know that it’s a tribute to America. We want them to learn about the greatness of our nation, and we feel like we could do that with the programming.”
The program kicked off with the presentation of colors from two members of the United States Marine Corps. They were accompanied by volunteers with Welcome Home Soldiers who hoisted large American flags into the air.
“I think this is very important for the children because they can really see what America is all about,” Mrs. Swanson, who dressed as Martha Washington, said. “It’s about coming together and paying tribute to our country.”
The program went on to discuss various American traditions including the meaning of displaying yellow ribbons and the history of the Statue of Liberty.
“We want to teach the children to treasure the American history,” the program’s coordinator Jo Anne McMeans said. “We want them to know who they are, where they came from and where we’re going. We want them to connect with their heritage.”
The program was followed by a parade around the school’s parking lot. Tricycles, wagons and scooters were decorated with red, white and blue garland, bows and ribbons.
Many children waved their flags and held paper torches as they scooted, peddled, walked and were pulled around the parade loop.
“I think the parade might be my favorite part,” said 12-year-old Matthew Phaup who helped hang the yellow ribbon for the program. “Because you’re marching for your country and it’s a symbol of patriotism.”
This is the 12th year the school has held its parade in celebration of July 4 and the fifth year for the program that preceded the parade, Ms. Brown said. She hopes to continue the event in the years to come.
“Not every child has the opportunity to be born in a home that is patriotic,” Mrs. McMeans said. “Often times, patriotism has to be instilled in the hearts of our young people. So this is one way in which we can show them the love and respect we have for our country.”