"I want the students to understand the significance of veterans and their families and the sacrifices they've made. I want them to understand that while we honor all veterans, that this coming weekend we specifically remember the soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. I want some to realize that some pay all, and that's what observing Memorial Day is all about," said Sprague.
Eighth grader Tristan Schuler arrived for the trip to the cemeteries wearing a black suit and white shirt. "I thought it was the proper thing to do. I wanted to show my respect for our troops. I dressed up to be respectful," he said.
Schuler said he felt good about helping decorate the graves. "I just feel like this is something I can do to honor veterans."
As the students fanned out across the cemetery, they looked for the flag holders that marked the graves of veterans. An American flag was placed in each holder and the cemeteries quickly filled with red, white and blue decorations ready for Memorial Day.
Students also found some other interesting facts during the trip. Eric Finkbeiner found several headstones at Mt. Hope Cemetery bearing his own last name. Others marveled at the age of some of the tombstones and the young ages of the people who died as soldiers in early wars.
"Both my grandpas served in war - one in World War II and one in Vietnam. So it's good to be able to do this and remember veterans," said Marissa Ondersma.
Several groups of students paused at the gravesite of Nicholas Roush who was killed in action in 2009. He was a Thornapple Kellogg High School graduate and although none of the students said they had known him personally, they said they felt a connection because he was a TK student from their same community.
Seth Miller said he will remember this school lesson. "It's about showing our respect for people who didn't come home from wars," he said.
"It reminds us how much they give for all of us and our freedom," said classmate Josh Aman.
Sprague said she wants students to know Memorial Day is more than just a day off school and a time to enjoy a cookout. "I want them to remember why we have Memorial Day at all," she said.