Educators learn about military children
Sgt. Christopher Nurse, an Army recruiter, talks with Katie Raffaelli, an educator at Edison High School, at the first School Support Services Workshop at the Fort Belvoir Officers' Club, Thursday.

FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- Counselors and administrators from Fairfax County attended the School Support Services Workshop at Fort Belvoir Officers' Club, April 7, 2011.

The educators came to learn about the unique environment in which military children grow up and to help those students be as successful as possible in school.

"Everyone really seems interested in reaching out and helping our military children," said Mary-Jo Chapman, Belvoir's school liaison officer. "This is the first school support services workshop Fort Belvoir has put on. This event helps educators better understand military children, the lifestyles they live and the range of emotions they experience."

There are currently more than 900 Fairfax County School students with a deployed parent, Chapman said.

Seven military children participated in a panel and answered questions on their feelings about deployments. They gave their thoughts on what the worst thing about a deployment was for them; how many different schools they've attended; how they felt about making new friends; what kind of support they received and how they felt about homecomings.

The children's worst fear was losing a parent during deployment. Their number one concern about moving was making new friends and anxiety about not having someone to sit with in the cafeteria during lunch.

"The raw emotions that came out from the panel of military kids were eye-opening because some of the kids are the students in our classes," said Jamie Phillips, a Belvoir Elementary School first-grade teacher. "They put on a smile on when they walk through the door, almost a kind of mask. It's important for us to see what kind of emotions they are dealing with deep down."

"The panel of kids was a wake-up call for us. It showed us why we are really here, that we are not just going through the motions, but we are really helping military children and their families," said Linda Vinson, Belvoir Elementary reading teacher.

The group of educators received a military 101 brief, and an update of all the Base Realignment and Closure construction happening on post. They also received information on what it takes to become a Soldier from Capt. Russell Mason, Potomac Recruiting Company commander.

"Without Soldiers, there wouldn't be military families," Mason said. He explained the roles of active Army, Army Reserve and National Guard. "Education is essential in the military. 99.6 percent of our recruits have their high school diploma," he said.

Mason spoke about several educational opportunities for Soldiers.

"Recruits can make a formal plan to attend college during or after their enlistment," he said. "There are loan-repayment programs, the Montgomery G.I. Bill, and the post 9/11 G.I. Bill. Soldiers used to have to choose between the military and college. Today, we encourage them to do both."

The military affects its servicemembers and their families.

"Education levels and expectations differ from state to state and can really have an impact on military children," said Wendy Strycula, a military family member.

Teachers, counselors and administrators can help military children adjust and overcome challenges.

Rachel Wilkens, a military family member and educator, moved to Belvoir eight months ago with her family. She has five children ages 13, 10, 9 and twins age 6.

"It made all the difference in the world when my oldest son, Hunter, was thanked for his service and sacrifices by the counselor we met," Wilkens said. "It was a very personalized conversation, and really helped Hunter start off on the right foot at a new school."

She explained some of the things that go on at home with her children their teachers may not be aware of.

"We have moved 10 times and the kids have been to four different elementary schools. Not every deployment is the same, and not every child handles every deployment the same," said Wilkens. "Setting a schedule really helped. During deployments, there are non-negotiables. We have dinner as a family every night, whether their dad is home or not."

Soldiers and their families make sacrifices during birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, graduations, first days of school, surgeries and funerals; and miss out on some of the normal, every day kind of things," said Wilkens.

The workshop put faculty in touch with organizations they may not have known existed. One organization at the event was Tutor.com.

"Tutor.com gives free tutoring for all students of active-duty and deployed Army Reservists and DoD civilians. The tutors don't give answers, but ask the students questions about their work," said Jennifer Marsh, Tutor.com client services manager.

"As a teacher, it is really helpful to hear all of the resources available. Often, parents will ask teachers questions instead of counselors, and it's important to be able to point parents in the right direction to find resources," Phillips said.

Both teachers and administrators found the workshop beneficial.

"This event is fantastic. Educators gain a better awareness of students and their parents," said Greg Hood, Fairfax County director of School Counselors. "Hearing from the students on how to help with transitions was very enlightening, as was the need to build a community of friends for them."

"The partnership between Fairfax and Belvoir is phenomenal," said Hood. "It is everything a partnership should be with sharing resources and coming together to do what is best for the children in the community and their families."

"Understand when you help and serve these children, you are serving America and honoring your country, too," Wilkens said to the educators.

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