APRIL 2023

When we dreamed up the idea of bringing a team of advisors into the fold in the Spring of 2022, we knew that we would grow, but we had no idea what shape that growth would take. Now, a year later, we can look back and see that they've left us challenged and inspired by their wisdom, shared from decades of experience as experts in their own fields.

The space that this newsletter provides is too small to fully relate all of the lessons we’ve learned (although the temptation to overshare is certainly there), and so I've decided to convey one piece of advice that produced a conspicuous result: two new pilot programs in the past school year, both tied together by the common bond of enlarging our focus to include extracurricular opportunities in addition to the work we’ve been doing in the history classroom.

Whereas our original vision was to work exclusively with history teachers to improve the classroom experience, we have branched out with programs that fall under the heading of “Operation C.R.E.S.T.” As I’ve shared in a past newsletter, Operation C.R.E.S.T. is an acronym that stands for Courage, Resilience, Empowerment, Service, and Teamwork. Collectively, these words speak to the heart of our mission in three important ways. They are the traits that were exhibited by the passengers and crew aboard Flight 93, they are the traits that our service men and women gained from their time in service, and they are the traits that can allow young people to thrive and lead in a quickly changing world.

After realizing the potential impact we could have by moving into extracurriculars, the challenge before us was to translate theory into practice. What specific programming could we offer that would highlight these traits while also preserving our core mission? What “little bets” could we make that would allow us to experiment, test, and learn? How could we take our capabilities and meet the needs of schools?

What follows below are our answers to these questions.

Our after-school podcast club for high school-aged students produces powerful conversations about leadership and has given students an opportunity to serve by preserving the Veteran experience in digital form and donating recordings to the Library of Congress to be preserved for future generations. Our students are creators of content as they draft questions, lead interviews, assist in post-production, and analyze the metrics of the show. They have also learned about how to take a recording and make it “magically” appear on Apple and Spotify through an RSS feed.

I enjoy listening to all parts of these episodes, but my favorite part is when students take a moment to reflect on the interview and share their takeaways with the audience. One memorable example was when Shaw, a senior heading off to Virginia Tech in the fall, shared that fear is necessary for having courage. He said he learned that “you can still be afraid while having courage…you have to have the courage to take risks and take challenges on and move forward…Even if you’re scared of a new job opportunity or going to college or trying something new, if it’s what you want to do you should have the courage to go through with it.” And I think we can all agree that this is one of the most important lessons someone can learn in life, let alone in high school.

Our second pilot program is a middle school club that gathers a small group of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders for eight 1-hour meetings over the course of the Spring semester. This experience exposes students to C.R.E.S.T. leadership values through conversations with a Veteran (our very own Jason Smith) and an analysis of leadership in popular film while also providing deep learning opportunities through reflective journaling and discussion.

What’s more, through a unique relationship between The 9:57 Project and Dr. Jenny Mischel at Savannah College of Art and Design, we are able to take the latest research in the field of adolescent psychology and implement it through practices such as reflective journaling, goal setting, identifying supportive adults, and seeking a deeper life purpose.

And, just like the podcast club, we put Veterans and students to work through service. Just last week, we traveled to Amisville, Virginia to participate in a tree-planting event on Earth Day.

Looking back at all of this has helped us realize how grateful we are to be able to connect Veterans with Educators to inspire the next generation. Our Advisory Board members have been instrumental in helping us take this step, and we are hopeful about what the future holds for The 9:57 Project!

Stay tuned at www.operationcrest.org as continue to hone and refine these new efforts.

Our student-Veteran service project in Amisville, Virginia, resulted in the planting of 40+ new trees in an effort to help establish a Riparian Buffer with the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC).
Credit: PEC

This map shows where our U.S. listeners are tuning in from. Our student-Veteran interviews have reached listeners in 137 cities in 12 different nations since launching last November.
Credit: OpenStreetMap

Header image: 7th grader Perry and Captain Jason Smith take a quick break for a photograph at a community service event last week. Credit: Piedmont Environmental Council