MUNSTER — An idea to engage and inspire youth and young adults to become outstanding and involved citizens took root in this community last spring, becoming an Indiana Bicentennial Legacy Project that has blossomed throughout the Hoosier state.
On Sunday afternoon, the exact date Indiana became a state in 1816, 13 students from five Munster schools received accolades in a ceremony at Eads Elementary School for completing the DOC 200 project organized by the Munster Junior Historical Society.
Seated on the stage in the school’s gym, the students honored ranged from grades two through 12 and represented Elliott Elementary, Frank Hammond Elementary, St. Paul’s Lutheran School, Wilbur Wright Middle and Munster High.
Louise Chickie-Wolfe, the society’s founder, educational director and DOC 200 Project administrator, said the Indiana Bicentennial Committee judged the Demonstrating Outstanding Citizenship 200 project to be “culturally inclusive, celebratory, engaging and inspiring to young and young adults, and creating a legacy for the future.”
In writing the bicentennial committee application for the DOC 200, she said three community endorsements were needed and came swiftly from the School Town of Munster, the Munster Police Department and The Times of Northwest Indiana.
Chickie-Wolfe said the DOC 200 project guides and inspires Indiana’s students in grades kindergarten through college to become outstanding citizens by teaching 50 specific life skills covering four areas — integrity, acceptance, service and patriotism. The number 200 celebrates the state’s bicentennial and is the number of actions the students had to demonstrate and report on.
“Students are asked to practice outstanding citizenship at home, in school and in their community,” she said. “It will take at least 100 days because the students can only do two acts of outstanding citizenship a day.”
The youngest participant, Elliot Elementary second-grader Peter Rotartori, 8, said completing the project took him eight months and “was the longest project I’ve ever done.”
In recognition of completing the project, students in kindergarten through second grade receive a pin while those in third grade through college are awarded a medal attached to a red, white and blue ribbon. Each student also received a certificate, a copy of the U.S. Constitution from Chickie-Wolfe and a congratulatory letter from U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, who attended the ceremony.
“You need an active and engaged citizenry for democracy to work,” Visclosky told the audience and students.
Simon Nirenberg, a fifth-grader at Frank Hammond Elementary, became the first student in Indiana to sign up for the DOC 200 program. Reading from his exit letter, Nirenberg told the more than 100 ceremony attendees that he found it easy to integrate the four areas into his everyday life.
Some of the patriotism activities included visiting cemeteries to put flags on veterans’ graves and the Community Veterans Memorial along Calumet Avenue in Munster.
Reading from her essay, MHS senior Skyler Gronkiewicz said she began this journey when her mother mentioned it.
A participant in Munster High’s We the People program, Gronkiewicz said she already had “quite an understanding of the U.S. Constitution.” However, putting into practice the life skills on the DOC 200 project was more difficult, she said.
“It was difficult to be kind to my brother and parents and tolerant when discussing political points of views (with others),” she said. “I would compliment someone who didn’t expect it — teachers, the school custodian. These are valuable life lessons.”
Tea Dimitrijevic, a fifth-grader at Elliott Elementary School, said while having breakfast with her mother at The Commander Restaurant, she saw a man with a Vietnam Veteran hat who was eating alone.
“We thanked him for his service and paid for his meal,” she said. “We also put blue ribbons around our trees (to honor police and military veterans) and took pizza and pop to the Munster police station to thank them.”