Video: Students learn harsh lessons of war

By Don Teague Correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/8/2006 7:40:46 PM ET 2006-06-08T23:40:46

Take two steps through the front entrance of Shoemaker High School near Fort Hood, and the price of war becomes impossible to ignore. Seven gold stars hang above the doors, honoring seven parents killed in Iraq.

“It's really hard to buy the gold ones,” says guidance counselor Barbara Critchfield, “Cause you know they're not coming back.”

Critchfield has been hanging stars since the Iraq war began, blue (for family members in the military) and silver (for family members wounded in war). For some families, there's a star for both parents.

“We've got at least 2,000 that are up throughout the building,” she says.

Sgt. Corinne Ganacias is back from Iraq, but her husband is there now. Their children worry about those stars.

“You never know when you're going to lose a parent,” says their daughter Kieshana Pangelinan. “You never know if they're not going to come back.”

For most teenagers, simply going to high school is stressful enough, but imagine going to a school where almost 90 percent of the students have parents in the military and many of those parents are fighting overseas. Teachers say the stress leads to falling grades and disciplinary problems.

Even though most parents do return, there are the seven gold stars for those who haven't.

Fourteen-year-old Meghan Nelom's dad was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. He told her not to cry if he died, that he was doing something important. So is she.

“He wanted me to keep on going to school,” she says, “So, the next day, I went to school because I know my dad wouldn’t want me to miss my education.”

She continues to learn under a shadow of war, in a school brightened by shining stars.

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