The children at William M. Finch Elementary were welcomed to school Tuesday by their new principal: Col. Deborah B. Grays.

As part of a relationship building program, Grays, U.S. Army Garrison commander, took on the role normally filled by the school's principal, Dr. Linda Paden.

"It opens our door to the community," Paden said. "They (the students) can see all the good things we are doing and how they can get involved."

The "Principal for A Day" program was designed by the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce to bring leaders from the community into schools to build involvement between schools and prominent people in the community, said Lisa Brinson, communities in Schools Program coordinator for William M. Fitch Elementary.

Community leaders range from business owners and church leaders to members of military and corporate society, and are placed into schools by the chamber of commerce, she added.

The once-a-year program allows kids to get exposed to successful people in the community they may not normally get to see, Brinson said.

"It's good exposure for the kids," she said. "Kids will remember."

Memories were built through the interactions Grays had with the children. During her visit, Grays toured classrooms, sat in on lessons, helped participate in select classroom exercises, read to children in kindergarten and concluded the day by being interviewed by students for the school newspaper, The Fitch Eagle Tribune.

"I love it. It's been a very exciting day," Grays said. Although she mentioned school started much earlier than she thought, she said the children gave her a jolt of power.
"You get so much energy from the kids," she said.

Just as the children motivated Grays, the goal of the program is to help motivate the community to take active roles with the kids. It is something that Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem has done for the school for a long time, said Zelmer Dawes, a specialist in the USAG Community Outreach Office.

"We have about 15 volunteers from base who come here to tutor and mentor students," she said. She said volunteers have also participated in school programs such as career fairs, science fairs, a chess instruction program, an afterschool knitting program and a read-a-thon.

Military involvement goes back to 1992, when the base entered into a partnership with Arkwright Elementary. This school merged with Ragsdale Elementary in 2005 to form Fitch Elementary, Dawes said. The partnership continued throughout the school's evolution.

It is a partnership Grays said she believes in.

"It takes a whole village to invest in children," she said. "If I can expose you to something to help out your education, it was worth my time."

Thus far, that investment has been paying off, Dawes said.

"Because of our participation, they (the students) have met all of the Atlanta Public Schools' goals," Dawes said. Such goals are designed to help improve children's education to better prepare them to enter the workforce or college environment.

Grays said she looks forward to visiting and continuing the relationship between the installation and Finch, adding she felt extremely welcomed by Paden, her staff and the children.

Paden said she was also enthused about the day's events and future participation.
"It serves to show them (the children) role models for what can be done," she said. "I hope the kids can get ideas of what they can achieve."

Parenting isn't an easy job. That might be the only truth people received about parenting.

Hal Runkel, a licensed family marriage therapist and author of "ScreamFree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool," , spoke with members of the community about parenting, Oct. 21 in the Fort McPherson Post Theater.

"There are five truths every parent needs to know," he said.

Throughout his 90-minute presentation, Runkel used stories from his own life and book to illustrate his five truths:

Aca,!AcParenting is not about kids. It's about parents.

Aca,!AcGrowing up is hard to do, especially for grown-ups.

Aca,!AcKids need their space and they also need to know their place.

Aca,!AcLet the consequences do the screaming.

Aca,!AcPut on your own oxygen mask first.

Runkel said the biggest lie told to parents is their lives will be over after having children. Society's reinforcement of this idea is a large problem that undermines parents' power.

"It's sold to us that it is all about the kids," he said. "We cannot orbit our lives around our kids. The more we try to control our children, the more out of control they become."

By focusing solely on their children, Runkel said parents are sacrificing the thing that separates them from their children: their adulthood.

As adults, Runkel said parents must be able to maintain control of themselves and their emotions. Anytime a parent loses his or her cool, he or she is "screaming."

"Screaming is not just about raising our voice. It happens whenever we let our emotions take over. Screaming just happens to be the most popular," Runkel said.
Screaming, literally or by a parent removing him or herself from the situation, transfers power to the child, he explained.

"When we lose it with our kids, we are really telling them three words: calm me down," Runkel said. "I don't need my children to obey me for me to keep my cool. I'm going to keep my cool no matter what (a child does)."

Maintaining control, Runkel says, allows a parent to act on his or her principles rather than emotions. It also conveys to a child that the parent is able to take care of himself or herself emotionally.

"It's so much better to control myself rather than trying to control my kids," Runkel said. "You move from an impossible (controlling your kids) to something difficult (controlling yourself)."

Runkel said parents need to rely on the consequences of their child's actions to teach them a lesson rather than try to control their child through screaming.

"The greatest teacher in history is life experience. Let the consequences do the screaming," he said.

Letting children learn from the consequences of their actions also teaches responsibility, Runkel added.

"Every parent wants responsible kids, but we take that away from them. Parents think they're responsible for making their children behave," Runkel said. "How is telling them what to do all the time going to teach them responsibility'"

Thus, Runkel advocates parents restructure the current model of parents revolving around their children to children revolving around the parent. Under this model, Runkel said, as children grow and learn responsibility, their "orbit" increases until they drift away from their parents.

Air Force Maj. Kurt Rathgeb, Joint Multi-tactical Data Links School director, Joint Interoperability Division, U.S. Joint Forces Command, was one parent in attendance.
"Sometimes I don't have the patience I should have," he said, adding that of all the advice given at the seminar, the idea of letting the consequences do the screaming stuck with him the most.

"This just gives me one more check in the back of my mind when responding to what my child is doing. It's an extra feather in the cap."

Rathgeb, who has two children, Elizabeth, 3, and John, 7 months, hopes the class will help improve his parenting skills and get them more in line with his wife, Lori, who he said has a parenting style more in line with what Runkel advocates.

Although some might consider the changes Runkel advocates extreme, the author said change is something you can't wait for but something you must pursue.

"As long as you are waiting for change, nothing is going to happen," he said.
Summarizing the words of Rosa Parks, who said, "You're going to do what you're going to do. I'm going to do what I'm going to do," to those asking her about her protests against segregation, Runkel said he is going to continue to educate parents to make them scream free.

"My mission is to calm the world one relationship at a time," he said.