ST. JOHN | Lake Central High School students who take Tom Clark’s U.S. history class know on day one they’re going to get a folder of information to research about a soldier killed in action.
It’s Clark’s longtime method of reality-focused teaching that has earned him dual honors in 2014 from the National Veterans of Foreign Wars: the National Citizenship Education Teacher of the Year (high school category) and the VFW Americanism Award.
The Lake Central School Board recently recognized Clark for receipt of the awards and his tireless work to ensure those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom are properly honored.
The teacher of the year award is given for outstanding commitment to teach Americanism and patriotism to students.
The VFW presents its National Americanism Award to an individual for his outstanding contribution to American principles, recognizing exemplary achievement in promoting values such as patriotism, commitment to service and love of country, which contributes to the betterment of the American society.
Past winners include former Major League pitcher Tim Wakefield.
“I share the awards with all the students who have worked with me on these projects,” said Clark, who notes special pride for students who have gone on to teaching careers or became lifelong history buffs as a result of his class.
For the past 29 years, Clark and his students — as a component of his citizenship focused Gold Star program — have studied the military records of soldiers from across Indiana, ensuring their names were properly enshrined on war memorials, while preserving their personal histories for their families.
Clark and his students have had a hand in the accuracy of Indiana memorials involving World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Recently, they’ve started to delve into the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
Clark explained researching the histories of soldiers killed in action provides healing and closure for the families while teaching students the true cost of war and how their fellow Hoosiers performed their duty.
“I’m trying to show them that it’s not just a number in a book, that there is a face to go with the name,” Clark said. “This type of project work teaches everything from how to use a computer to where to put a stamp on a letter.”
In 2013, Clark, as U.S. Army veteran who also served the Indiana National Guard in Afghanistan (2006-2007), received the American Legion’s National Education Award.