Community, unit partnerships support education
Parents and students make their way to school on the first day of classes at Hainerberg Elementary School Aug. 29. (Photo by Karl Weisel)

WIESBADEN, Germany - Department of Defense Dependents Schools and military units are teaming up again to develop strong partnerships aimed at helping students succeed.

As the Wiesbaden military community transforms and welcomes new units, administrators and garrison leaders are making an extra effort to get the school year off to a great start.

"This is something that we don't want to get wrong because our future depends on it," said Col. Jeffrey Dill, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden commander. "Children are our legacy. That's why I spend as much time as I can in the schools."

Officials are continuing to expand the strong community-school partnership in the wake of winning the prestigious 2010 Pete Taylor Partnership of Excellence Award, awarded by the Military Child Education Coalition.

"Not every community in Europe is fortunate to have things in place. We are continuing to build upon a solid foundation," said Peter Witmer, Wiesbaden school liaison officer, who mentioned added partnerships with parent organizations such as Senior Parents Association and Big Bucks for College -- organizations focused on offering extra programs and opportunities to help students headed for college.

This year an added focus is on units and Soldiers ramping up engagement in school activities to support staff and faculty with facilitation of academic and extracurricular programs.

"Get involved. Be a participant. Be visible. Get out and support your community," said Sharon O'Donnell, Wiesbaden High School principal. "It makes you visible to parents, students and staff. It absolutely works out."

For some commanders, partnering in the schools is an investment in the future of the nation and an extension of support to Soldiers.

"Its important that we get into the places where the future of our country resides," said Col. Mitchell Kilgo, 2nd Signal Brigade commander, whose unit is partnering with Wiesbaden High School for the upcoming school year.

"It's important that the students see the Soldiers coming out to support," said Lt. Col. Michelle Garcia, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Europe District's deputy commander.

Because a large percentage of Soldiers and civilian employees are parents too, Kilgo said he plans to take a deliberate approach to ensure his unit holds up its part in the relationship.

"For Soldiers it's pretty easy. … I can just make it their place of duty … and make such opportunities available for our workforce," said Kilgo. "We have to make time to get involved and allow our employees opportunities to get involved."

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, is the buzz word around most campuses, and local principals are excited about ongoing partnerships with specialized units such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and signal units.

"The Corps of Engineers math and science expertise is what we use to effectively engage the kids," said Chuck Fannin, Wiesbaden Middle School principal, adding that some COE parents also help with tutoring students in math and science.

"(The) 102nd Signal (Battalion) set up our media center. Their expertise is supporting our initiatives," said Dr. Susan Gurley, Aukamm Elementary School principal, who expressed excitement about the partnership that is continuing from the previous school year where the unit also supported the mentoring program, computer club and the school's field day. "This is a way of establishing relationships and bringing the military expertise back into the school."

And while the benefit to the students is the main focus, units and schools benefit as well.

"We have a student hire working with our Public Affairs Office … with video graphics. We enjoy the benefits of their skills," said Garcia. "We enjoy sharing our passion for engineering."

Garcia said the schools provide immense support in times of deployment. The female teachers help fill the void of the mom role too, as she recalled how local teachers supported her son while she was deployed. "The schools are wonderful in that respect."

Contact Peter Witmer to become active or learn more about community school partnerships at mil 335-5129 or civ (0611) 4080-129.

Page last updated Tue September 6th, 2011 at 00:00