Patriotism is literally written into the policy books at Park County School District 6 in Cody.
“Principals are encouraged to have a patriotic exercise at the beginning of assemblies, athletic contests, and other school activities,” reads a portion of the school code that was adopted in 1998.
The pledge of allegiance to the American flag starts the school day at every one of the schools in Park County School District 6 – just one example of the ways in which patriotism is celebrated in the Cody school system, according to school board member Stefanie Bell.
“It’s natural for our student leaders to begin a lot of events with the Pledge of Allegiance,” Bell told Cowboy State Daily. “You know, senior awards night, it’s not surprising to see that begin with the Pledge of Allegiance, with students organizing it.”
Park County is one of the most conservative counties in the state, according to voting records, and the patriotism of its citizens is evident in everything from the flags that line the downtown business district year-round, to the annual 4th of July, Veterans Day and Memorial Day events.
Bell, who has been on the Cody school board for 22 years, said that the district’s staff and board encourage the participation of students in all of the events that celebrate America.
“This last year, the student councils at the elementary schools and the middle school raised money, and the middle school honor society delivered new flags to the merchants on Sheridan Avenue,” Bell pointed out.
“And consistently, there’s been a Cody High School bugler that has served the VFW honor guard,” she said. “The most recent one was Landon Rau. And so those students play Taps and serve at patriotic celebrations.”
Individual staff members are often the driving force behind these patriotic activities and events, Bell said.
“A favorite event is our district Veterans Day Program,” she said. “It was started by Livingston Elementary music teacher Gerry Scott around 1997, and in 2015, that became a district event.”
Bell said that the program eventually grew to include every elementary school music teacher and student in the district.
“They sing all of the songs from each branch of the military,” Bell said. “And every veteran, and the entire community is invited to participate in that event.”
Another school staffer that started a patriotic activity is now-retired para educator at Cody Middle School, Chris Wolf. In 2019, Wolf and fellow teacher Gretl Class began teaching students the art of quilting, resulting in a finished product that is gifted to a local veteran.
“She started a sewing class,” Bell explained. “And then machines were donated, and the materials were donated, and they started patriotic quilts with the intent of participating in ‘Quilts of Valor,’” a national foundation that honors veterans for their service.
“It’s really a moving celebration, where the honored vets actually have the quilt placed over their shoulders,” Bell said.
Other events and activities that Park 6 students participate in, according to Bell, are an annual cleanup effort at the Wyoming State Veterans Memorial Park on the east side of town, as well as essay contests like “Patriot’s Pen.”
But, she pointed out, none of these activities would be meaningful if it weren’t for the support of the community.
“Certainly our students are patriotic and they respond to the call of our community,” Bell said. “But our community really responds as well. The Veterans Day Program wouldn’t be exceptional if people didn’t show up. The Quilts of Valor would not have really gotten off the ground if people hadn’t donated machines, or had patriotic fabric to donate.”
And patriotism is also a tie that binds generations, according to Bell.
“It offers an opportunity for many different generations to meet together, to learn more about them, and to just build these bonds,” she said. “For a student to be able to speak with a veteran and hear their story, that just impacts someone for a lifetime. And it truly impacts both people.”
Bell believes patriotism is part of the Cody school district’s identity.
“I think that this is just a part of who Park 6 is,” she said. “It would be very foreign to Park 6 for us to have a graduation where we didn’t start with the Pledge of Allegiance or hear the national anthem. And I think that when it’s such a value, you see it reflected just across the board.”
Bell said that the students she knows, including her own children, are in agreement.
“I turned to my soon to be 5th grader, and I said, ‘Do you say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning?’ And she looked at me like I was crazy, because she said, ‘Yeah, you know, of course we do.’ And so it’s just a part of their lives. And I think that that’s beautiful.”