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Educator at Old Bethpage museum teaches kids about the vets who fought the wars

The Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage,

The Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage, where its new educational coordinator wants to focus on teaching children about U.S. military veterans. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Island students who enter the Museum of American Armor will learn about more than just the history of the country's weapons of war.

They'll learn about the men and women who fought the wars, suffered injuries, and in many cases lost their lives, said Gloria Sesso, co-president of the Long Island Council for Social Studies, and new educational coordinator at the Old Bethpage museum.

The result, Sesso said, will be young people appreciating veterans and the sacrifices made, not just on Veterans Day, but for the other 364 days on the calendar.

"You have to understand the emotion of things but you also have to understand the perspective, the purpose, the context," said Sesso. "That’s important to really understand. … We need to stop and think and reflect … I want students to be able to draw conclusions based on evidence."

A teacher for more than 40 years, most recently at Half Hollow High School East, Sesso helped lead an effort earlier in 2021 to emphasize keeping social studies as part of the state Regents exams.

In her new role, Sesso hopes to bring veterans in to talk with students about everything from the fight to end racial segregation in the military, to the war in Afghanistan.

According to the Census Bureau, 104,345 veterans live on Long Island.

Mike Sapraicone, a museum trustee who proposed the educational coordinator position, which is paid, said when he was in school, he had little understanding of the wars American service members fought and the history that led up to the conflict. Museum officials declined to offer specifics on how much Sesso will be paid.

"I think any true educator wants their children to be educated in every aspect of things," said Sapraicone, who went to school in Queens and previously served as Seaford school board president.

Based on a survey published in 2019, more teaching of the subject is critical. The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation published the survey based on 41,000 Americans and found only 53% could pass an American history test.

In a statement, representatives for Long Island school superintendents said they are embracing working with the museum.

"Districts across Long Island work to bring a variety of authentic learning experiences into classrooms," Tonie McDonald, president of Nassau County Council of School Superintendents, and Yiendhy Farrelly, president of Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said in a joint statement. "We look forward to the academic opportunities the newly formed position at the Museum of American Armor will bring to our students and the ways we can enrich our curriculum to expand the appreciation and education of those who bravely serve our nation."

Libby O’Connell, a History Channel chief historian emeritus and chairperson of the NYC World War I Centennial Commission, will serve as an educational adviser at the museum alongside Sesso.

"You can learn all sorts of aspects about American history by learning about the veterans and veterans’ history," O’Connell said. "To ignore the bad stories is to undercut the strength of the good stories."

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