The gym filled with seventh- and eighth-graders at Will James Middle School was on its feet cheering for Hunter Jones as he was presented with his national Veterans of Foreign Wars teacher of the year award in Billings.
“This is a greater honor than I could ever hope to have,” the eighth-grade history teacher said on Thursday.
Jones won the award because he and his students have been sending letters and care packages to active duty soldiers since 2002.
It all started when he heard that a former student’s husband was deploying to Afghanistan.
“Once I have had a student in my class, I feel partly responsible for them,” he said.
That enthusiasm is passed along to his students.
“He gets us to write letters to soldiers. I think that’s kind and good of him,” said 14-year-old Morgan Monette.
“He does a lot of things for the troops and gets kids involved,” said Deanna Avent, president of the ladies auxiliary VFW post 1634 in Billings.
“His name comes up more than any other teacher when any veteran talks about teachers in Billings,” Avent said. “I have always been impressed with the level of work he does.”
His classroom currently sends letters and care packages to 28 active duty soldiers in Afghanistan, Germany and Africa. His class has sent more than 5,000 care packages and 10,000 letters.
Jones says that he tries to impress on his students that not a single portion of United States history could have happened without veterans.
“I hope I can get my kids to understand where they got their freedom from,” he said.
Jones found out that he had won the award earlier this year when the national VFW organization president called him during class.
The award included an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the VFW National Community Service Conference, where he presented a workshop.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” he said.
He was also awarded a $1,000 prize which he said will go into the account he uses to send care packages to soldiers.
The students gave him another standing ovation for good measure after his speech was over.
“Mr. Jones is awesome,” said Raven Goodman, 13, and her fellow students agreed.