For more than a decade, Ellsworth Community Middle School has hosted the community's Veterans Day program. And, like in all the past programs, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade students took part in Friday's ceremony.

"We just want them to know that the freedoms they have come at a cost," Principal Paul Uhren said of the students' involvement.

While the school's gym was filled with as many as 500 people - including veterans, their friends, families and community members - a large portion of the audience was middle school students.

"Many of them have a friend or relative that was a veteran," said band director Lisa Benz.

And the students weren't just passive listeners. Their participation could be seen in nearly every part of the program, from handing out bulletins as the audience arrived to helping put together the veterans' posters that lined the walls leading into the gym.

"It is a constant reminder to our students of the sacrifices made," Uhren said of the posters, which were made up of thousands of individual cut-out stars with veterans' names printed on them.

"These are the names of veterans (that students knew) from the past 50 years," Uhren said.

Ellsworth students also got to hear the program's guest speaker Capt. Cary Chapin spent 20 years in the Air Force and served two tours in Iraq and three in Afghanistan.

During her speech Friday, Chapin spoke about the history of Veterans Day, and thanked the community for its support while she and her comrades were overseas.

"Without your support from home, we could never have done our jobs," she said.

Before Chapin took the stage, one student from each grade recited poems and speeches.

"The bravest man I know is ... a man who risks his life to save a friend. Not only to save a friend, but to save a nation," said sixth-grader Hannah Kowalchyk, reading from Amanda Whitney's poem "The Bravest Man I Know."

Throughout the entire hour-long program, members of the eighth-grade band played pieces, including "Marches of the Armed Forces" and "God Bless America," and the eighth-grade choir also performed a salute to the Armed Forces.

Benz said the students have been practicing the songs since the end of September.

"We're playing music that everyone knows," Benz said. "I tell them, 'You need to know this down cold.'"

And, while Friday's program gave the students an opportunity to show off their speaking and musical abilities, as well as learn the importance of Veterans Day, it also gave them a chance to thank those who served.

"It's kind of their way to pay back to the veterans," Benz said. "I think you can tell by the students' behavior at the program ... that's really meaningful for these students."