I recently visited the Brentwood K-6 Lower School (Los Angeles) to share the story of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as well as one of Francis Scott Key’s poems titled “To My Steed.” Before I spoke, however, there were a few announcements and to my delight two students came up to talk about their own Banners—flags they had created to share an insight that would carry them forward in life.
It’s a tradition at Brentwood—and I think this idea could be useful for many schools—to have graduating sixth graders create their own personal banners for their final year in elementary school. These banners feature a quote or phrase chosen by the student that captures a spirit or idea that they find personally inspiring. Students decorate a cloth flag with their quote spelled out and then add imagery in keeping with their theme. Each student makes one and then the whole set is hung up in the gym. At each weekly assembly, two of the students point out their banner and give a short speech to explain why they chose their quote and what it means to them. I got permission to take a few pictures and share them with readers of starspangledmusic.org. Here are a few examples.
I think Francis Scott Key—who would certainly support the notion of creating your own art to express your hopes and dreams (that’s what he did, of course)—would like this idea too. Maybe in celebration of the 200th birthday of his lyric “The Star-Spangled Banner,” we can have students across the nation create their own Banners to inspire themselves and others to make our nation a better place for all.
P.S. I’ve gotten a few tips from the teachers at Brentwood. They give a handout to the students with instructions that includes uniform specifications of size and shape (to facilitate putting them up on the wall together), directions to include some sort of image, and finally to make it clear that the student will be asked to speak to the school assembly about their banner. Teachers approve quotes in advance to catch advertising slogans or anything that might not be appropriate for display. If a proposal is questioned, students have the opportunity to argue their case. One student proposed the Dos Equis (beer) jingle “Stay Thirsty My Friends.” After considerable discussion in which the student explained how the quote for him had nothing to do with drinking, but rather the unending pursuit for knowledge, he was allowed to use the quote. Younger students watch and listen to the older students’ presentations and, as a result, look forward to the day when they will present their own banners.