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State Level VFW Award Recognizes Teacher’s Patriotism

Jill Orlowski Jill Orlowski’s patriotism and respect for the military is evident from the many ways she weaves citizenship topics into her lessons and projects.

“I think ELA is the perfect platform for the activities I do,” said Mrs. Orlowski, an eighth-grade English teacher at Cheektowaga Middle School. “I grew up with a lot of veterans in my family and a sense of pride in country was always promoted in my family so when I began teaching, I always incorporated the lesson to let you know about patriotism and read stories about war heroes. I think it’s very important for kids to recognize that people fought and are still fighting to protect every single freedom that we have and we should be grateful.”

But it’s a combination of what she does in the classroom and outside of the classroom that has earned her some special recognition from the Veterans of Foreign Wars program department.

Mrs. Orlowski won the New York State Smart/Maher VFW National Citizen Education Teacher award.  So far she has won at the local, regional and now, the state level. The win puts her in the running for national level recognition.

Nominated by special education teacher Brenda Christopher who co-teaches with Mrs. Orlowski, the VFW award identifies and recognizes America’s best educators who instill a sense of national pride in students.

“I have had the pleasure to work directly with Mrs. Jillian Orlowski, an 8th grade ELA teacher within the Cheektowaga Central School District. Jill’s love for her country and respect for our veterans is immeasurable,” wrote Mrs. Christopher in her nomination form. 

  • For more than 15 years, Mrs. Orlowski has organized a three-day eighth grade class trip to Washington, D.C. Traveling by bus from Buffalo to D.C., the group tours all the monuments, the Capital Building, some museums and Arlington Cemetery. She serves as a tour guide to explain the history behind each of the sites, the people for which they honor, and the sacrifices made by the heroes in Arlington.
  • Orlowski and her husband run in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. each year. After they complete the marathon, they send their medals to the families of the soldiers they each represented. She shares her experience with her students and rarely is there a dry eye in the room when she’s finished.
  • December of 2019 marked the fourth year that Mrs. Orlowski and her family made the trip to Arlington Cemetery to participate in The Wreaths Across America ceremony and volunteer to help place 4,000 wreaths on the graves of our national heroes. This experience is shared with her students as well. She recruits students and their families, as well as district employees, to volunteer and pay respect to fallen soldiers. This year a group of district employees helped her run two semi-trucks to hand out wreathes in the cemetery.
  • She invites veterans into her classroom several times during the school year to share their experiences with her students. She organizes a veterans’ breakfast in November and encourages her students to bring a family veteran in to be honored.
  • Each Valentine’s Day, her students make personal cards to be sent overseas as well as shared with local veterans.
  • After assisting her students in their research of local veterans who sacrificed their lives in battle, Mrs. Orlowski started the James A. Grifasi Memorial Scholarship, a local scholarship at Kenmore East High School where Grifasi graduated. Mrs. Orlowski’s students judged the essays. They also held a kick ball tournament to raise money for the scholarship. She donated the $300 from winning the local VFW award to the scholarship.

If she is selected for the award at the National level, she would receive an all-expenses-paid trip to attend a VFW conference to receive the award.  She would also receive a $1,000 award for professional development expenses and a $1,000 award for her school. She would also receive a plaque for herself and for the building.

VFW annually recognizes the nation’s top classroom elementary, junior high and high school teachers who teach citizenship education topics regularly and promote America’s history and traditions effectively.

Based on the nominees submitted, VFW local chapters, called Posts, will recognize one outstanding teacher in grades K-5, 6-8 and 9-12. Posts then submit these winners’ names and required documents to their District-level judging, who will forward their winners to the Department (or state) level. After judging, each Department then forwards the entries of its winners to VFW National Headquarters for consideration in the national awards contest.