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O Say, Can You Sing? Local Youngsters Say Yes!

The National Anthem can be heard at baseball games, the Olympics and political rallies. But research shows most Americans don't know the words to the song.

O Say, Can You Sing? Local Youngsters Say Yes!

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WEB EXTRA | Photo Slideshow
(Photos by Cathy Morrison/Francis Parker School)

The National Anthem can be heard at baseball games, the Olympics and political rallies. But research shows most Americans don't know the words to the song.

Elementary school kids at Francis Parker School in Mission Hills want to change that trend. They're taking part in a national effort to re-teach Americans the Star-Spangled Banner. KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis has this report.    

Sounds of students singing the Star-Spangled Banner  

A group of students dressed in red, white and blue stand at attention as they sing the Star-Spangled Banner. Earlier this year, the students took a crash course in American history. They signed up for The National Anthem Project, a program that teaches kids the lyrics of the anthem and the historical events that led up to the creation of the song.  

Darlene Harriman is Francis Parker's music instructor. 

Harriman: If they (students) understand the history, then knowing the words just falls into place. The r38arts, what are those? Those are the walls of Fort McHenry. Most of them (students) knew the tune, and learning the history just made the song more real to them.  

Harriman encouraged her school to take part in the project after learning that one in six Americans don't know the actual words to the National Anthem . So the first thing her class did was learn the basics.

They discovered Francis Scott Key wrote the anthem during the War of 1812. At the time, the American colonies were under attack by the British Navy off the shore of Baltimore. Key watched the battle rage as a hostage aboard a British ship.

Ten year old Emily Perdin says Key's eyes were fixed on an American flag hanging above the chaos.  

Perdin: The reason he says, ‘The flag was still there,’ is because they hung a flag that was 30 feet tall and 40 feet wide. He knew that if he could see the flag after the big fireworks, then America won and they would be OK. 

Emily's classmate Caroline Lesney says that's not the only interesting fact they discovered. She says the class also learned the national anthem was not intended to be a song.  

Lesney: Well, the Star-Spangled Banner is only one verse of a poem that Francis Scott Key wrote. But that verse is probably one of the most important. So everyone should know it because we live in America. And that war was very important because if the British took over then we probably wouldn't be in America. So I think everyone should know it (national anthem) for that reason.  

Lesney: My favorite part is, ‘The rockets red blare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that their flag was still there…’ 

Classmate 1: ‘Oh say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave…’ 

Classmate 2: ‘Or the land of the free…’

Classmate 3: ‘And the home of the brave.’ 

Classmate 4: I like the very end where it goes, ‘The home of the brave,’ because it’s very strong. We all know that we are very brave.

Tintocalis: Do you feel brave when you sing that part?

Classmate 4: Yes I do! 

And it's that sense of courage and patriotism which formed the basis for the National Anthem Project.

There is a movement to include the national anthem into the high school history curriculum. Research shows a large number of teenagers don't know the anthem's lyrics by the time they graduate.

Gabby Leibowitz and Mary Toupin -- students at Francis Parker -- say they plan to be part of a whole new generation of students who do know the national anthem.

Leibowitz: Well, the song really teaches you a lot about our heritage. All of America should know about our national anthem. It’s a big part of our country.

Toupin: It represents our country. Every country has a national anthem, and this is ours. And we’re very lucky to live in America and have choices, not be enslaved and have everything we have. Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.