CYSS Schools of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills Dance Academy class, lead by Katie Strickler, helps children ages three to six develop balance and coordination skills through movement.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - The Army Family Covenant continues improving quality of life for Army families. One of the more evident ways it's doing so at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is through the opening of a new facility on JBLM Lewis Main.

The facility, on Garcia Boulevard in New Hillside, was built for Schools of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills Unlimited, a program offered through Child, Youth and School Services. SKIES offers instructional programming in academics, arts, life skills and sports for infants through teens.

In the past, SKIES classes were held at various locations across JBLM, including Sheridan Sports and Fitness Center, and Army Family Covenant Arena.

"They've never really had a space to call their own, so this is that space they can finally call their own," said Tracey Wilkinson, MWR partnership specialist.

Although the official grand opening will take place on Wednesday, the facility is open and has been hosting classes for weeks now.

Boasting 11 classrooms, including an outdoor area, the facility is in a class of its own.

For starters, parents have the option of relaxing in a Parent Wait room while their child is in class. The room is outfitted with video surveillance screens, which allow parents to watch their children participating in class. It also has a play area to help younger siblings pass time.

"It's a convenience rather than having to go and wait somewhere else," Wilkinson said, adding that parents are also allowed to leave and come back, if they prefer.

A Performing Arts room is lined with mirrors for aspiring dancers along with a karaoke machine and other equipment suitable for dance and voice lessons.

Children 6 months to 4 years meet in the Gymnastics room for "Wiggles and Giggles," a playgroup for parents and children. The program introduces gymnastics through an "open gym" concept, allowing them to play on equipment specially for smaller children.

Students looking to study or prepare for SATs can take advantage of the Homework and Technology Lab, which Wilkinson said SKIES plans on inviting Clover Park School District to use.

"We really want to help the community as a whole," she said. "Some of the schools are crowded, so bringing them over here could help them as well as help us."

A fenced-in patio and grass area has a playground, covered area and picnic tables suitable for all ages.

The facility also has a multi-purpose room, fully equipped kitchen for culinary arts and an art and science room with sewing machines for those interested in fashion design. Classrooms A and B have play kitchen areas, among other educational learning tools, and are for use by both SKIES students and CPSD.

"We actually have an agreement with the school district to allow them to use these, as well," Wilkinson said.

Each classroom, with the exception of the multi-purpose room, has viewing windows for parents who wish to observe their child's class more closely. They also have age-appropriate bathrooms and adjustable furniture.

"It makes it easier on the teachers in terms of ensuring safety," Wilkinson said.
Parents can register and pay dues onsite instead of having to do so from CYSS Central Registration, as done in the past.

While a few classes will still be held at other locations, Wilkinson said they are working on relocating the majority of them to the new center.

"CYS is really trying to go to a one-stop shop," Wilkinson said. "We want to make it easier by having multiple classes for the siblings all in one place so there's no more moving from one place to another."

As a part of AFC benefits, Army dependents of a deployed service member, wounded warrior or fallen Soldier are eligible to participate in up to four SKIES classes free of charge.

Wilkinson said it's all reflective of AFC's promise to take care of families. Having been an Army dependent for several years, she appreciates the ongoing mission of taking care of families.

"I think the Army is changing a good bit," she said. "Instead of telling people what we offer, and saying, 'You can take it or leave,' we're really trying to meet the needs of the community."

Wilkinson hopes more families will take advantage of SKIES, noting that participation can have positive, long-term effects.

"You often hear a correlation between the arts programs with how they perform in school, as well as karate and programs like that," Wilkinson said. "We offer the types of classes that can help a child's self-confidence, which is really important."

For more information on SKIES, visit their website at

Laura M. Levering:

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