It was a star-spangled morning at two Rock Hill schools Friday as the students and staff at Finley Road and Lesslie elementary schools marked the 200th anniversary of the writing of the national anthem with school sing-alongs.
“Out of all the music in the world, they should know their national anthem,” said Finley Road music teacher Terri Westphal, who teaches “The Star-Spangled Banner” every year.
Students at both schools have been learning how to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as well as the history behind the historic song.
“It was written by Francis Scott Key while he was captured on a British ship,” said Omari Bryson, a fifth-grader at Finley Road.
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Key penned the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner” as part of a poem titled “Defense of Fort M’Henry” the day after British ships attacked Fort McHenry in Baltimore on Sept. 14, 1814. In the following days, the words were matched with a popular tune and distributed through newspapers.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the song was played at important moments like the raising of the flag or military occasions. In 1931, a law making “The Star-Spangled Banner” the country’s national anthem was signed by President Herbert Hoover.
The words to “The Star-Spangled Banner” aren’t always easy to remember, but Lesslie kindergartners Colton McFadden and Tripp Williams said they were going to try their best.
“Sometimes I forget the words, so I just keep going anyway,” Colton said.
Lesslie music teacher Melissa Burroughs and several other teachers are focusing on “The Star-Spangled Banner” thanks to a grant from the Rock Hill School District Foundation. In addition to teaching all students the anthem, Burroughs ordered about 100 books on the history of the song for classrooms. Fifth-graders are presenting a play about Key.
Because it’s such a significant anniversary, Burroughs wanted to pay special attention to the song this year.
“I want them to remember this when they’re 80 years old,” she said.
As the 370 or so Lesslie students stood in front of the school’s flagpole and sang the anthem on Friday, a few parents and grandparents looked on, including Cathy and James Rainer, who have a granddaughter in kindergarten.
James Rainer, a veteran, wiped away tears after the children finished the song.
“This is what America needs,” Rainer said. “The patriotic portion is just gone, and we need more of it.”
Across town, teaching the national anthem is a yearly event for Westphal. Each Monday at Finley Road, everyone in the school sings it, in addition to reciting “The Pledge of Allegiance” each day.
After the singing and flag-waving was over, second-grader Arianna Mixon said she thought the event went well and that she remembered all the words.
“It was good, because I was here since kindergarten,” she said.