ABERDEEN, Md. -- Soldiers from the 20th CBRNE Command joined parents and teachers in welcoming students from Deerfield, Churchville, and Edgewood Elementary Schools with haircuts and high fives as they started the new school year.
The events began Aug. 30 at Edgewood Elementary School's back-to-school night as Soldier's offered haircuts for boys and hair bows for girls. Boys lined up to get their back-to-school haircut- Army style- while the girls got to select new hair accessories.
One of the 'barbers' cutting boys hair was Spc. Tedrick J. Jackson, a 20th CBRNE Command information tech specialist from Fort Worth, Texas who said the most memorable part of the event was seeing the faces of parents after their kids had their hair cut by a "real Army man."
"I volunteered to go to Edgewood Elementary School because it costs us absolutely nothing to invest a few minutes of our life just to show the next leaders of our country that you care and are here to support them," said Jackson who pulled double duty by also volunteering at Churchville Elementary on Sept. 4, the official first day of school.
"The first day of school can really set the tone and level of confidence in your school year," said Jackson, "and if I can help by giving out a few firm handshakes and high fives why not?"
Even as the early morning temperatures hovered in the 80's, the Soldiers were ready with smiles and high-fives as Churchville students arrived for the first day of class.
Sgt. Olivia Richardson, a native of Shelbyville, Indiana and the preventative medicine non-commissioned officer for the 1st Area Medical Laboratory, volunteered because she feels it's important for Soldiers to support schools in the local community.
"I volunteered last year also and it was a great experience. I really enjoy getting the opportunity to help out at local schools anytime there is a chance," she said. "It is important for Soldiers to support their local schools and communities because it shows that we care. The community supports us so it is important for them to know we are there for them also." Richardson said the whole experience was memorable and feels the Soldiers' presence made a difference with the students.
"I think that for some kids the start of school may be scary or unenjoyable. By the Soldiers being there to welcome them back to school, it seems to make their morning a little better and gives them a positive attitude for the first day of school."
Churchville Elementary School principal Audrey Vohs of Bel Air, Maryland, couldn't have agreed more.
"The first day of school was amazing because the Soldiers were there to set the tone of positivity and excitement for our students. They made every student feel important and welcomed, it was so awesome to see them find ways to connect with our students from singing, "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" to noticing the little things like new shoes."
Vohs says events like these are important because they show the students and families that the school is part of the greater community. "It is important for our families to see that full circle in their daily lives," she said.
Students at Deerfield Elementary also had a grand welcome back as more 20th CBRNE Solders lined the sidewalks and greeted them on their way into the school.
Capt. Ivan Cho and Capt. Josiah Hennig, two explosive ordnance disposal officers with the 20th's nuclear disablement teams, cheered the students on as they arrived at Deerfield. Both officers felt it was important to show their support for the youngsters.
"This sounded like a fun opportunity to help the kids get excited about going back to school," said Hennig of Stratford, Connecticut. "I've supported military relationships in the community in the past and always felt like it was a valuable way to spend my time."
Cho agreed with Hennig. "I volunteered with Capt. Hennig because I thought it would be a great opportunity to thank the kids for going to school and striving to be better people so that one day they can lead the country in whatever they want to do in their lives," said the Valencia, California native. "My wife is currently a second grade teacher and I know how much education means to her and it was an amazing experience to see the backing of parents in their children's education."
Students and their parents weren't the only ones who appreciated seeing the Soldiers. Deerfield 5th grade teacher Rebekah Cirrincione from Abingdon, said it's nice for the students to see they have support from individuals outside their immediate family who are happy to see them learn.
"It's really exciting and it means so much to have somebody outside of their family who is excited about them going back to school," said Cirrincione who added, "Seeing their community coming out to support them and welcome them and get them excited for what the new year brings educationally has an incredible impact on learning."
Lt. Col. Terrell Jones, 20th CBRNE Command chaplain, pumped motivational pop songs over a loud speaker to get Deerfield students excited for the new school year.
"I think I see the next president of the United States," Jones said into a microphone as a young man got out of his mother's car.
As a former school counselor, Jones knows how important it is to support students in their academic careers early on.
"I can say without a doubt that what we did for the kids will not only make a difference for them but it will help play a role in their socioemotional and cognitive development," shared Jones a native of Altadena, California. "The degree of warmth and acceptance that we as adults presented to the kids at the schools will help lead to positive actions as they learn to handle their early childhood.
"I also believe, by us showing up in uniform, we represented strength, honor, respect and discipline. These are characteristics that are needed in the lives of today's youth. "To truly educate kids today requires nothing less than providing these kinds of characteristics as building blocks. Thus, what they and their parents saw was that we care."
Jones said he was reminded of a quote from author and leadership expert John Maxwell where he says, 'Students don't care how much you know until they know how much your care.'
"Caring causes a ripple effect in children's lives and I believe that our simple gestures did just that."