Idea sparks honor for JH history teacher

Melissa McWherter has been named VFW Teacher of the Year for District 28 and is now in the running for the state honor. (Dana Delgado Photo)

Melissa McWherter has been named VFW Teacher of the Year for District 28 and is now in the running for the state honor. (Dana Delgado Photo)

By Dana Delgado

In an effort to connect students and history, teacher Melissa McWherter struck upon an idea a few years ago that has proven not only highly successful but impactful.

So impactful, McWherter has been named the VFW Teacher of the Year for District 28 for her efforts after being recognized locally and is now in the running for the state honor.

Paul F. Litfin, commander of the local VFW Post 8200, made the announcement about the honor that also includes a monetary award. McWherter will be officially recognized at a presentation on Feb. 15, at the Pilot Knob VFW in Austin.

District 28 encompasses much of central Texas including Austin, Bastrop, Taylor, Round Rock and Leander.

“I am honored and humbled,” said McWherter. “But I want this to be about honoring veterans and students learning about veterans’ sacrifice and patriotism.”

Through her efforts and leadership the last two years, Liberty Hill Junior High School has developed the centerpiece for the community’s Veterans Day celebration. It is a ceremony that continuously runs through McWherter’s mind.

It’s got to be right and it’s got to be memorable, she said.

The ceremony, an all-out tribute that bestows the upmost honor, comes but once a year; so, no details can be overlooked. With so many in attendance including students, parents, grandparents, business leaders, teachers, along with the guests of honor — veterans — this moving experience has become a much anticipated and appreciated ceremony.

So impressed by the school event, local VFW officials asked that the junior high school celebration be their official Veterans Day ceremony. This comes in only the second year that LHJH has held the event.

The veterans celebration is an outgrowth of a blueprint that McWherter developed while working with the Georgetown Independent School District where she also fashioned similar ceremonies and in her words, “Had it down to a science.”

The 11-year teaching veteran is a graduate of Texas Tech University and has also garnered teaching experience with the Leander and Lubbock school districts. She is a graduate of Georgetown High School and currently holds a Master’s Degree in School Administration along with her teaching credentials.

Enamored with history, McWherter said she is a descendent of the Pilgrims from the Mayflower.

“History is so fascinating and I like making connections,” she said. “It’s like a story of people’s lives.”

She said her interest in history was fostered by her fifth grade teacher who made it fun.

After coordinating her first veterans ceremony in Liberty Hill in November 2013, McWherter turned the November, 2014 celebration into a “huge community event.”

The remarkable undertaking involved the band, art students, theater arts’ students, the yearbook staff, and history students among other student organizations.

Unique uniform displays along with carefully crafted banners with the name of more than 150 veterans graced the school foyer outside the gym where the ceremony was held last fall. Ribbons were presented to each honoree and students presented a slide show of the veterans being honored.

“Kids were much more involved,” McWherter said. “Everyone felt connected and there was a great sense of pride in community and family.”

Preparations for the Veterans Day ceremony began in August, but the junior high history teacher said that it was worth all the work that went into it.

“Hopefully, it’s a seed for growth,” she said. “But we want it to be special and new every year.”