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Sollars Elementary School second-grade teacher Elise Henderson and three of her students from last year — from left, Ryann Moyers, Ryan Seau and Tamiyah Kunsman — hold up the U.S. flag Thursday after helping decorate the Misawa Air Base school cafeteria with 50 state flags, the culmination of a two-year class project led by Henderson.
Sollars Elementary School second-grade teacher Elise Henderson and three of her students from last year — from left, Ryann Moyers, Ryan Seau and Tamiyah Kunsman — hold up the U.S. flag Thursday after helping decorate the Misawa Air Base school cafeteria with 50 state flags, the culmination of a two-year class project led by Henderson. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Sollars Elementary School second-grade teacher Elise Henderson and three of her students from last year — from left, Ryann Moyers, Ryan Seau and Tamiyah Kunsman — hold up the U.S. flag Thursday after helping decorate the Misawa Air Base school cafeteria with 50 state flags, the culmination of a two-year class project led by Henderson.
Sollars Elementary School second-grade teacher Elise Henderson and three of her students from last year — from left, Ryann Moyers, Ryan Seau and Tamiyah Kunsman — hold up the U.S. flag Thursday after helping decorate the Misawa Air Base school cafeteria with 50 state flags, the culmination of a two-year class project led by Henderson. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Fifty state flags adorn the cafeteria at Misawa Air Base’s Sollars Elementary School, which will be renamed “Flag Cafeteria” in honor of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of America.
Fifty state flags adorn the cafeteria at Misawa Air Base’s Sollars Elementary School, which will be renamed “Flag Cafeteria” in honor of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of America. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Sollars Elementary School students can gaze up at Maine’s moose, California’s grizzly bear and Maryland’s coat of arms while eating tater treats and gabbing with friends.

Fifty state flags were hung in the school cafeteria Thursday along with a U.S. flag, the culmination of a two-year project organized by second-grade teacher Elise Henderson to collect a flag from every state.

“It was mainly to bring a little bit of home — a little bit of the United States — to the people of Misawa,” she said, just before the white and blues of West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming took their place next to Washington state’s green.

“And the other reason was the school cafeteria just needed a set of flags” to brighten its drab white walls, Henderson said.

The flags were hung Thursday, the day before Veterans Day. Darrell Bencken, Vietnam War veteran and a member of Veterans of Foreign War Post 2981 in Oakley, Kan., gathered all 50 flags after Henderson sent the organization an e-mail about the project.

“We told them we were renaming the cafeteria ‘Flag Cafeteria’ in honor of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of America,” Henderson said.

It took Bencken about a year to round up the flags.

“Each state sent their flag and a lot of them flew over their state capitol,” Henderson said.

Bencken mailed the flags about a year ago. Henderson’s second-graders last year studied each of them and wrote thank-you letters to the states, including a photo of the students with the state’s flag in every note.

“The children became so enthralled with the flags,” Henderson said. “When we opened a new flag, they’d cheer and clap, and they compared flags when we finished opening them. You wouldn’t think you could become so attached to a flag.”

Three of Henderson’s second- graders from last year hung around the cafeteria Thursday as the final flags were raised. School was out for a teacher work day, but Ryann Moyers, Tamiyah Kunsman and Ryan Seau spent most of the day at Sollars because their mothers volunteered to press the flags. It turns out their mothers also held some sway over which was their favorite flag.

Seau said he liked Ohio best, not for the flag’s pennant shape but because that’s where his mom was born. Likewise, Kunsman called California her favorite flag because “my mom lived there when she was little.”

“Wyoming’s my favorite because I was born there,” said Moyers, after her mom, Grace, reminded her of that fact.

Heidi Seau, Ryan Seau’s mom, said a lot of Henderson’s students could name the flags when they were put up, even though not all have the name of the state as part of the flag.

“It makes a big difference in here. It looks nice,” she said.

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