Fort Huachuca, Arizona - With school registration underway July 19-21, the Fort Huachuca Accommodation School District hosted the 2016 Back to School Fair at Colonel Johnston Elementary School for on- and off-post Families July 15.

More than 40 organizations from Fort Huachuca and Southeast Arizona participated with booths, displays and presentations to educate parents and children about school registration, changes to the Colonel Smith Middle School uniform policy, extracurricular activities, sports, special needs services, tutoring and more. According to Erin Schnitger, school liaison officer, Fort Huachuca, more than 400 Families attended. This is the third year the installation has sponsored this event.

Schnitger explained that although the City of Sierra Vista holds a Back to School Fair around the same time, Fort Huachuca's event is specific to those attending an on-post school. The principals from all three schools were on hand to greet parents and hand out information about school registration prerequisites and requirements, and specific information relevant to each school.

In addition to the principals, Fort Huachuca Accommodation School District Superintendent, Bonnie Austin, was present throughout the event as her schedule permitted.

"We are super excited about it," Austin said. "It gives Families an opportunity to see at least one of our schools and to give Families an opportunity to meet our principals. Children can get their health checked, enjoy lots of other activities and see what's available on Fort Huachuca for our children."

"This was a great opportunity for Families to meet school officials in a casual environment," Schnitger added. "It took away the intimidation factor and made the kids more comfortable, especially when meeting a new principal. This year, Colonel Smith has a new Principal, Sandy Larson."

Schools and school options were also provided. In addition to what's available at Fort Huachuca Accommodation Schools, the Sierra Vista Unified School District and options for attending charter schools, private schools and home schooling were addressed.

The fair also focused on four other categories.

The health and wellness/special needs categories featured an opportunity to meet school nurses and other health service providers. It covered needed screenings (eye and hearing), immunizations, nutrition, healthy sleeping, school lunch program, Exceptional Family Member Program and resources available for Families with medical issues. On-post health service providers partnered with the Cochise County Health Department to share information.

"I think it's great that they do this. It really gets the kids motivated to go back to school," said Shandelon Garner, health nurse with Preventive Medicine, Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center.
The clubs and extracurricular activities category focused on fun and educational activities available to youth both during and after school. Newcomers and members of the Fort Huachuca community received a snapshot of garrison-sponsored activities open to their Families.

In the safety category, Families had the opportunity to meet the Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education officers who are stationed at the schools when they are in session. The Fort Huachuca Fire Department and Sun and Spokes bike store brought a bike safety rodeo to the event where youth could borrow a bike or bring their own to learn about bicycle safety and courtesy as well as challenge themselves by travelling through an obstacle course. The Sierra Vista Fire Department donated bicycle helmets and showed Families the correct way to wear them.

"This is spectacular, to see the support networks that are available to the parents and kids. It gets people adjusted and acclimated to the new surroundings," said one parent in attendance.

When asked about the event, Carla Silano, president, General Myer Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization, said, "I think it's great. We've had a good turnout. It's been very well publicized. It's wonderful for all of these Families to come out and try to get a head start before school gets started and see what's going on [around] the post, to see what's available and what the schools can provide. I think it's been very well received."

The three school principals were present at a booth immediately inside the cafeteria.

Jennifer Truitt-Lewis, principal, Colonel Johnston Elementary School, said, "This is my second year doing this event. I think it's always a great way for parents to come, meet the principals and see what the fort offers -- I always enjoy it. It's always nice to see the little faces before the start of the school year."

Val Quarto, principal, General Myer Elementary School, said, "I love [the Back to School Fair]. It gives parents the opportunity to see the resources available in our community and [gives newcomers] an idea of the registration process that happens [this year] for our schools July 19-21 and make that transition smoother for them … I'm always excited to come back to school. It's always fun!"

Sandy Larson, new principal, Colonel Smith Middle School, made her remarks. "I'm amazed by the middle school both visually and with the programs.

"I am very familiar with the district," Larson said as a former teacher at Johnston School. This was her first time participating in this type of event and felt it was a good way for Families to connect with the schools.

"A lot of people have been here and don't realize what's out there," she said.

Staff Sgt. Alexander Weller, 2-13th Aviation Regiment, who just moved to Fort Huachuca two weeks ago, said, "It's neat. I really wish my boy was here so he could walk through, but I'm gathering information about the school being as we [permanently changed stations] here and will immediately start the school year. I like the event and especially the meet-and-greet [scheduled for] the day before school."

Schnitger was "very happy with all the Families who came out together information about their new garrison. We had a phenomenal showing by our vendors that are really interested in communicating with our Families one-on-one. This is the type of environment where you not only learn about the variety of programs, but talk to the points--of-contact face-to-face. If you have a question about a school, you can ask a school principal. If you have a question about an [Army Community Service] program, they're right there. If you want to make an appointment with the dental clinic, they're right there. That one-on-one face time is so valuable to Families.

Col. James W. Wright, garrison commander, expressed his pleasure with the event and with how well received it was, describing how it was a great way for Families to interface with the schools and available resources.

"I am glad that my wife and I were able to attend," he said. "I was able to meet so many people and all in one place."

School registration runs July 19-21. Parents must register their children at the schools they will attend. The 2016/17 school year begins Aug. 3. For information. Call 520.458.5082.