Serving future leaders all in day's work
Camellia Jefferson (center), school liaison officer for the U.S. Army Garrison School Liaison Services, speaks Tuesday with Cpl. James Carroll, Hapeville police officer, and Beverly Wallace, wife of Sgt. Maj. Norman Wallace Sr. Wallace was trying to enroll her son, Norman Jr., into school. Getting students enrolled in school and meeting with school leaders is part of the work Jefferson does to connect military Families, schools and communities toward creating the best educational opportunities for children.

ATLANTA -- Camellia Jefferson's office may be located in the bottom of the building she works in, but when it comes to her work with area schools, she is top of the heap.

Although Jefferson, who serves as school liaison officer for U.S. Army Garrison School Liaison Services for Fort McPherson, Fort Gillem and the metro Atlanta school district, is an "Army of one," she said that hasn't stopped her from executing her mission of connecting military Families, schools and communities to create the best educational opportunities for children.

"The strength of sustaining our children is through education," said Col. Deborah B. Grays, USAG commander. "The pivotal link in the Army's process of providing the best learning environment for military children is our school liaison officers. They serve as the commander's tool to assess the pulse of the education system and are vital to our success."

Jefferson agreed, saying the position is important because it deals with the future of the nation - its children.

"Child education is vital. They are our future leaders, our presidents, doctors and lawyers," she said.

Jefferson said she works with children of all ages from early childhood development through high school.

She also works with General Equivalency Diploma recipients and helps children get into college.

Her work encompasses a variety of areas, all with the goal of identifying barriers to academic success of Army children and developing solutions to overcome those barriers.

"I provide Army parents of school age children the tools needed to overcome obstacles to education that stem from military lifestyles," Jefferson said.

The job is a lot of work, Jefferson admits, but she says one that she finds contentment in.

"I've been doing it for about 15 years," she said. "I love to see kids grow and learn."

A former special needs teacher in Germany for 10 years, Jefferson said she has always been passionate about working with kids.

Now, instead of doing so in one classroom, she does it with more than 100 schools in the metro Atlanta areas Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem are partnered with.

In helping children, Jefferson said she has to deal with a lot of adults, ranging from parents to administrative-level points of contact in each school district.

To best serve the community and keep issues from occurring, Jefferson said she has to keep in touch with school administrators, often by visiting schools personally.

On busy days, she can see more than 30 parents to discuss issues, either individually, in groups or during presentations at one of the commands on the installations.

Business has picked up even more as the bases begin to close due to BRAC, Jefferson said, adding her work-load has increased for the foreseeable future.

"Base closure makes it difficult. There are more folks living in housing who transfer here and do not like the schools their kid is zoned in," she said. "A lot of my work is currently on general administrative transfer requests to get kids into their parent's school of choice."

Even if a student ends up in a parent's school of choice, it doesn't end Jefferson's work. Once a child is enrolled, part of Jefferson's duties include dealing with school-related concerns, such as how a child is being treated educationally and socially.

She also helps parents learn about available extracurricular activities and professional development opportunities.

New arrivals have to deal with transfer of records to their new school and, especially for high school students, have to ensure previous class work meets graduation requirements in their new school. All these areas fall under her responsibilities, Jefferson said.

BRAC also adds the responsibility to help children leaving the installations, Jefferson added.

Just as she helps forge vital links between Families and schools in the area, she said she also works with school liaison officers at other installations to help smooth school transitions for moving Families' children.

"I work very closely with parents to provide the best transition to wherever they are going," Jefferson said.

Because that transfer may mean moving to another state, Jefferson said it is important for her to know all state mandates and guidelines.

Additionally, she has to be knowledgeable on special needs legislation and the No Child Left Behind laws. Even with all this on her plate, Jefferson finds time to enhance the educational environment for children in area schools by coordinating the Army's Partnership in Education initiatives.

Through this cooperation, Jefferson said she is able to help community schools take advantage of opportunities available through the military, such as attending field trips to the installations' job shadow days, career fairs and other special events.

Jefferson said she and local schools "work awesome together" but also credits some of her success to parents, who provide her with motivation.

"Parents come in to see me and bring in their kid's report cards," she said, adding she has seen kids grow and develop throughout the years.

At times the job can be rough, Jefferson admits, but seeing a child reach his or her potential and knowing she has done her part in educating the local school systems about the needs of military Families while advancing education makes every day worth it.

"I love my job and what I do," she said.

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