FORT Bliss, Texas--MacArthur Intermediate School students and faculty gathered Nov. 5 to honor special guests including veterans from World War II, Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm. Also among those honored were Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment "Spartans."

The speakers for the ceremony consisted of veterans, the 1-36 commander and some students. The theme enabled the students of MacArthur students to thank and support troops, both past and present. MacArthur students and the Spartans have created a special relationship this school year through the Partners in Education program.

In this program, the Soldiers of 1-36 have been matched with MacArthur students in grades K through 8. So far, more than 100 Soldiers have volunteered for the program and been paired with students. The intent is to enable students who may be struggling with grades, disciplinary problems or other obstacles outside of the school environment to have a positive influence in their lives. From past experience, Enriqueta Sanchez, the program coordinator at MacArthur, has seen positive effects.

"I have seen this program change students entirely," Sanchez said. "You can see a child who may struggle with many aspects of his or her own life, and then, as the two continue to get close, the child becomes more confident as they begin to see themselves as important. They also begin to see themselves as privileged for having a mentor, something many of these children have never felt before."

The Soldiers participate during school hours and join their student in their classroom. Often times, teachers will allow the student and Soldier to go to the library to talk or work on struggling classes.

Soldiers are not always limited to being inside the classroom. Several events take place throughout the year where Soldiers can do activities with their students apart from class work. The Veterans Day celebration was one example of this.

The students themselves love the program overwhelmingly. Lexas Quesada in the eighth grade said, "this makes me want to come to school and learn even if what we are studying isn't easy."

"It makes doing projects fun," said eighth-grader Diana Quinones. "When we have to do boring [projects], my mentor will find a way to change it to make it cool, but we still do it right."

These Soldiers are striving to have a positive impact.

"When people watch the news, they tend to see us as a 'war-machine,'" said 1st Lt. Christopher Marion, one of the Spartan volunteers. "But with this program, it places Soldiers in the communities, where they are needed, and does exactly as the Soldiers Creed says; 'I serve the people of the United States.' And this doesn't just help the students - you can see a difference in our Soldiers as well."

"On the news, I only heard that 'they killed someone' or something, but these Soldiers are nice and they help us," said Nick Yanez, a sixth-grade student. "I didn't know they do that."

The Soldiers who volunteer for this program are not all junior enlisted. NCOs and officers volunteer as well, many of them having recently returned from deployment overseas.

"It's good for these Soldiers to be around innocence," Marion said. "I've seen some of the most battle-hard NCOs melt around these kids, and that says a lot about what we are doing here."

Spartan Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Ed House, has had experience with his Soldiers in this program for the past two years, and sees this program as having the utmost importance.

"[PIE] is the most important noncombat related program that we do," House said. "It allows us to make a difference in a young person's life, which is great in itself. Even if we only can impact one student, it would still be worth it."

As the program continues on into the semester, all parties involved hope to see the same level of improvement as the last school year. With this program in place last year, MacArthur saw an additional 88 students achieve honor roll status who had mentors. The faculty highly believes the increase is due to the great work of the mentors. It is because of their dedication to this school that these students can see first hand the service that Soldiers want to take part in for this country.

"I urge each of you young people here to honor [our troops] wherever you see them," said former Marine Manuel Riveras as he spoke at the gathering. "Remember that they fought for you."

The students took this to heart as they applauded and cheered for their troops throughout the ceremony. The students were very grateful for not only the dedication that the Spartans have for serving the United States during a time of war, but for their commitment to help them succeed in their lives.

"I'm happy I have a mentor," said eighth-grader Alma Chavez, "It really makes learning fun and makes me really want to be here."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16