By Susanna Meyer, Times Republican
Marshalltown High School (MHS) student Leticia Herrera wasn’t always a history buff, but when she got the chance to apply for an all expenses paid trip to Honolulu and learn more about the Pacific Theater of World War II, she concluded that the opportunity was too good to pass up.
The decision has most certainly paid off: Herrera and her teacher, Susan Fritzell, are the only student/teacher pairing in Iowa who have been chosen for the trip, which they will take in July, as part of a program called “Sacrifice for Freedom: World War II in the Pacific Student and Teacher Institute.”
The trip allows students to visit historic sites in Honolulu and experience events in the locations where they took place. While it is organized through National History Day, historic sites like the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum and the USS Missouri Memorial Association sponsor the program.
When she decided to apply for the program, Herrera wasn’t that “into it,” as she puts it, because she knew the probability of getting accepted was low. Once she started applying, however, she became more interested in the history of the date which still lives in infamy.
“I actually started doing more research about Pearl Harbor, and I’ve always been interested in World War II,” Herrera said. “I got so interested in it that I was thinking, ‘I need this. I want this, or else I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself.’ So, I started pushing everything I had into the application.”
The aforementioned application consisted of a one-page paper about why the student was interested in World War II in the Pacific and how it would impact their academic goals. Fritzell also had to write a similar one-page paper about her interest in the program and how it would help Herrera’s learning.
Fritzell is a teacher in the Extended Learning Program (ELP) at MHS, which caters to gifted and talented students and encourages independent studies. Herrera participates in the ELP, and Fritzell thought the Sacrifice for Freedom program would provide a great opportunity for independent study.
“I think the best way to learn about (World War II and Pearl Harbor) is to be there,” Fritzell said.
Herrera and Fritzell — along with 15 other student and teacher teams from across the country — were ultimately selected for this trip. The Sacrifice for Freedom program isn’t just about going to Hawaii, though: there are special projects to be completed prior before they can even depart. Herrera, Fritzell and the other duos have assignments due every two weeks leading up to the actual event.
“It’s all in preparation for being there, but also to help us understand and learn, which I really want to do,” Fritzell said. “We don’t know enough, so the first assignment is to read a 100-page book, the concise history of Hawaii.”
Similar small assignments will be due over the course of the next six months, but a larger undertaking, the Silent Hero Project, is also a part of the program. Herrera and Fritzell will be required to choose a fallen soldier from Iowa who is buried or memorialized at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific to research, and Herrera will then write a brief narrative about the individual.
The narrative will be read during the trip and eventually published online at NHDSilentHeroes.org. This research project isn’t solely on Herrera’s shoulders, though, as Fritzell will be there every step of the way.
“The cool thing about this is it’s a team effort the whole time. We’re learning together, and what better way to be a role model for students than to be a learner along with them,” Fritzell said.
Herrera is especially excited to learn about World War II from the perspective of the Pacific Theater. Before applying, she was much more familiar with the European Theater.
“Just knowing that I can get there and have that learning experience while I’m there is absolutely amazing, and I love it. And with Mrs. Fritzell, it’s going to be absolutely amazing, because I have somebody by my side. If I don’t understand something, somebody can help me,” Herrera said.
Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or [email protected].