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Cunningham float parade honors American states, those who have served
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Alejandro Acevedo leads his fifth grade class across the Cunningham Elementary campus on Friday morning during the annual Patriotic Float Parade (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

At Cunningham Elementary School, the topic of service is one that is strong in the school’s namesake, as Lloyd G. Cunningham was the longtime fire department chief from 1941 to 1956. Fast forward to 2023, those who serve at home and abroad are continuing to be honored with the school’s annual Patriotic Float Parade.

Every year during the week before Memorial Day, Cunningham fifth graders hand-make “floats” representing each of the 50 states in the country – a complementary activity to American History curriculum. Friday marked the 10-year anniversary of the popular float parade.

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The NJROTC of Turlock High School presented the nation’s colors alongside principal Cathi Schali-Lopez at Cunningham Elementary on Friday morning to kick off the Memorial Day Patriotic Float Parade (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

“We have a three-day weekend,” Cunningham principal Cathi Schali-Lopez reminded students in a morning ceremony. “It’s because Monday is Memorial Day, where we honor veterans who have served our country and have lost their lives protecting our freedom in the United States.”

With students and staff members decked out in red, white and blue and waving American flags, the nation’s colors were presented by members of the Turlock High School Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps before the pledge of allegiance was played and a moment of silence was taken.

“It’s always a good opportunity to come out and present the colors for community events,” said THS sophomore and NJROTC member John Barbagallo. “It’s very important to honor our veterans and important to remember it at schools like this with so many young people. They may not understand the significance of service, but it helps them get started and it’s a pleasure to help contribute to that.”

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The Grand Canyon State was well-represented on Friday morning with this float from a Cunningham Elementary fifth grader, who was assigned Arizona as part of the school’s American History curriculum (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

Following the ceremony, students from all other grade levels took seats outside of their classrooms as the Turlock High NJROTC helped lead the small parade around campus. Fifth grade students from the classes of Joy Gonzales, Alejandro Acevedo, Maria Covarrubias, and Judy Bondshu each picked or were assigned one of the 50 states in the nation, where they built mini floats – many on wagons, skateboards, scooters and dollies – decorated with state landmarks and fun facts.

Many of the students shared that they chose their states because they have family there or have visited in the past. Others explained that they chose a state based on where their favorite sports teams are from.

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This Cunningham fifth grader was enthusiastic to share not only his Alabama-themed float, but also his patriotism through his red, white and blue outfit and accessories (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

“2013 is when we started doing this, and it started so small, but it’s grown so much,” said Gonzales. “Everybody seems to really enjoy it, especially the little ones, and it’s great to honor those who served and have the students learn about the importance of the day.”