School partnership program: Win-win for students, Soldiers
January 20, 2011
- School partnership
- Big Brothers, Big Sisters
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Almost six months have passed since leaders from Fort Wainwright, U.S. Army Alaska, the Fairbanks North Star Borough school district and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska signed an official partnership agreement solidifying a long-standing informal relationship.
The agreement signed last August at the FNSB school district office paved the way for the partners to take their collaboration to the next level. Wainwright units and Soldiers wasted no time in recent months, jumping in to help area schools with participation in a variety of tasks from reading programs to school events and off-site activities, said Lynda Goodwin, one of Fort Wainwright\'s school liaison officers.
"Our biggest achievement is getting the Soldiers active in the schools," she said. "They seem very happy to do it and the schools are very happy to have them. We've overcome some challenges and it feels good to have the program up and running."
A major school partnership success story is the relationship forged between Barnette Magnet School and Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Goodwin said. Gimlet Soldiers recently helped with the school's geography bee, making a big difference in the event, said Missy Odsather, Friday in Fairbanks coordinator at Barnette.
"The Soldiers helped with scoring, reading and running the geography bee. They were awesome," she said. "It's really inspirational for our military kids to have that contact with Soldiers. It's so beneficial for both military and nonmilitary students."
Wainwright's support for the school also enables students to fully embrace activities like ice skating in the community, Odsather said. "That's what we're all about at Barnette is giving kids opportunities. This program gives them opportunities. Having these Soldiers be part of this is so amazing."
Recruiting Soldiers to participate in the program and school activities has not been a problem for Sgt. 1st Class Gabriel Brewer, 3-21st program coordinator. "All the Soldiers I have talked to who have volunteered have absolutely loved this," he said. "I never have an issue finding Soldiers to volunteer in the schools."
Students and schools are not the only beneficiaries in the partnership. Soldiers benefit greatly from their experiences with schools and students, Brewer said. "When we helped Barnette with ice skating some of the older and more experienced kids were trying to teach our Soldiers how to ice skate," he said. "Every chance we can volunteer in the schools benefits our Soldiers as much as the children. For the children involved it gives them a chance to interact with other adults other than the ones they see every day. For our Soldiers, especially the younger Soldiers who don't have any siblings, it gives them a chance to interact with kids while providing a positive influence." Soldiers from 3-21st will ice skate with Barnette second-graders today at the Physical Fitness Center ice-skating rink.
They also partner with Ladd Elementary School. "Honestly, I believe the best part has been having the opportunity to see the Soldiers and children embracing this partnership," Brewer said. "When the Soldiers return from volunteering within the schools they are ecstatic and you can see (their) sense of pride and accomplishment."
The relationship between Fort Wainwright and BBBS has also flourished under the school partnership agreement, said Taber Rehbaum, chief executive officer, BBBS of Alaska. Since entering into the official agreement, BBBS has made 12 new matches between a military big brother or big sister and children and six new matches with military "littles," or children. They have also received almost 20 inquiries from potential military "bigs" and "littles."
"We so appreciate Fort Wainwright's support of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and we look forward to serving more military families as well as engaging more Army personnel as big brothers and big sisters," Rehbaum said.
Partnering with Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers members, giving presentations to units and family readiness group meetings and attending installation Newcomer Orientations are a few examples of their ramped up involvement with Fort Wainwright, she said. BBBS also plans to implement an adopt-a-Soldier program to coincide with upcoming deployments. "The idea is to show our Soldiers how grateful we are for their service and to keep them connected so that when they come back they might consider volunteering as 'bigs,'" she explained.
It is rare to find a program with clear and obvious benefits for all parties, but Goodwin said the school partnership program is exactly that. "Anytime you can help the kids - help them feel good about themselves; help them enjoy education, help them in their learning experiences - it's a positive," Goodwin said. "And the Soldiers also feel good about themselves and they're helping kids. It's a win-win."
Goodwin said she hopes to continue making partnerships, citing a recent match between 539th Transportation Company, 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, and Lathrop High School.
For more information about unit partnerships with area schools, call Goodwin at 361-9897.