Remembrance starts with poppies, ends with respect at St. Mary Catholic School

ELORA – On the wall, in the hallway just a short distance through the front door of St. Mary Catholic School in Elora, a cut-out of a solider is pasted to the wall. 

His shape is filled in with handmade red poppies created by students at the school, representing honour and respect for the sacrifice of veterans. 

It’s an important tradition for the school’s Remembrance Day activities.

“We’ve used this soldier poster for years, after the junior kindergarten’s decorated it one year. He’s a very tall soldier. Everybody put a poppy on him, and it’s just beautiful to see,” said educational assistant Vicky Jensen-Beirnes.

“We have him up every year in the hallway.”

Jensen-Beirnes is one of the leaders of the school’s Remembrance Day events alongside Erin Burt, a Grade 5/6 teacher. They use the symbol of the poppy as a creative teaching tool each year. 

“I’ll give every class a poppy design to do, so they can make a copy of it and decorate it however they want to,” Jensen-Beirnes said. 

“Teachers are really creative so that the students make poppies out of everything. You’ll see them made of egg cartons, papier mache, everything.”

Animals in war – Vicky Jensen-Beirnes, an educational assistant at St. Mary Catholic School, posts student-drawn images of animals who were part of the war, either in service or companionship to the soldiers. This is one of the themed Remebrance Day exhibits posted around the school.


Principal Justin DiLoreto enjoys seeing the November transformation, noting the décor begins the day after Halloween. He credits Jensen-Beirnes with the enthusiasm to get things in motion. 

“There’s always been a huge number of displays that she set up regarding the poppies and some soldiers stuff and paraphernalia. Lest We Forget is the theme. You won’t be able to miss it in our school. It’s a big theme obviously throughout November,” DiLoreto said.

Jensen-Beirnes noted teaching future generations to respect the sacrifice of veterans is a personal mission for her, having grown up in the shadow of that era – particularly with Second World War veterans.

“It’s really, really, important to me, because I remember some of the older people, and I remember some of the struggles they faced when the war was over. I remember seeing them struggle and I don’t want them to be forgotten. That’s basically why I do it,” said Jensen-Beirnes.

Her husband was in the Canadian Armed Forces for 30 years and had some interesting artifacts she could bring to decorate the school for Remembrance Day. 

“I’m an Elora Legion member, have been for approximately 35 years, so I also could get the Legion members to come in their uniforms,” she said. “You know, that felt more real, and I wanted it to feel more real.” 

This year the Remembrance Day service at the school and at the Elora cenotaph coincide, so the school won’t have Legion members in attendance. 

“The grade eights are going to the cenotaph on Friday, which is really nice. They get to see it and experience it,” Jensen-Beirnes said. 

She said the week leading up to Remembrance Day, students of all ages were handed lesson booklets on the importance of Nov. 11, which she hopes will correlate with the lessons of the art projects. 

“I hope that helps them understand a little bit more when they hear about it. I’m hoping they remember some of it,” Jensen-Beirnes said of the younger students.

She strives to make the Remembrance experience visually stimulating, to encourage students to become involved and have an experience linked to the event. 

“Even the little kids, at least if they can colour or do a poppy, or look at it, I wanted them to have something more visual, so that’s why I started,” she said. 

“Even if a JK student coloured a picture of a poppy and you asked them about it, they’d know what it is. So that’s what had me do it.” 

The students in Mrs. Burt’s Grade 4/5 class are learning about Remembrance Day in anticipation of the Nov. 11 ceremony in which their teacher plays a lead organizing role.


DiLoreto has been at the school for two years and is happy this year’s Remembrance Day assembly will be in-person with the entire school.

“During my time here we did our celebration virtually because it’s the only way that we could, but we’re super excited and happy that we can meet as community again, and have our teacher leads that are really passionate about Remembrance Day and take part in the actual organizing of the ceremony. So, it’s going to be a nice opportunity for them to do so,” DiLoreto said. 

Jensen-Beirnes shares his enthusiasm. 

“This year we are going to have the grade ones come up and sing a song. The teachers are organizing that,” she said. “And we are having it live which is good; in the gym which is exciting.”

Together with Burt, she said they organize some remembrance videos, recite the poem In Flanders Fields, and do things to keep the assembly fresh each year. 

Of course, prayer is an important part of the Catholic school’s daily routine, and on Nov. 11, it will be too.

“We’re lucky because of this particular ceremony, we have our choir that are going to sing some songs for us that are in that theme, in that light,” DiLoretto said.

He acknowledges it is a challenge to have students make a connection to veterans, as so many of local veterans are gone, and students never had the opportunity to meet them – but that just makes the assembly’s messaging even more important.  

“It’s always been a delicate balance with our students to make sure that they understand the importance of the day without being over the top and making sure that they feel comfortable about the message, so it’s really about the balance,” DiLoreto said. 

“I think what they do understand is there is a respect owed to a generation that came before us that had to experience a lot of sacrifice and that’s the message that they get without fully understanding, because how could they?” 

DiLoreto added, “But they certainly do have that understanding that the respect is the reason why we wear a poppy.

“Thinking of things like the war in Ukraine for example, they know that there’s something called a war and they know that people have to fight and I think they understand that message, but they never really, it’s never really impacted their life here in Canada. 

“But that wasn’t always the case. There was a time where people had to go to battle and had to fight. I think that’s the most salient point for them to understand and not take for granted.”

From respecting the moment of silence and wearing a poppy to the other traditions that make the assembly special, DiLoretto said staff efforts bring home a positive message of gratitude to the students for  the veterans. 

“The teachers at our school do a really good job of making sure that the students understand that there were people that sacrificed a lot for us to have the life that we have here in Canada,” he said.

“And that’s really the message that is brought home … to the kids, so they know that there were some really valiant soldiers … that fought hard so that we can have our freedom.” 

He added, “I think the message has always been the same: to honour those that came before us and honour the sacrifices that they’ve made for our freedom.”

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