By Bob King, contributing writer for the Bavarian NewsSeptember 12, 2011
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- Hugs and smiles were in abundance as dozens of excited educators packed into the Patton Fireside Lounge conference room, here, Aug. 25.
Teachers, administrators and support staff from all five of the Grafenwoehr community's schools attended the annual welcome back reception to reconnect and plan for the new school year.
Additionally, U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr Commander Col. Vann Smiley was on hand to give the crowd a pep talk and discuss their common goals. He revealed his passion for instructors and their mission, saying the lives and development of youth was an important undertaking.
With rousing agreement from his audience, Smiley then outlined the aspirations that would make the 2011-12 school year a success.
"When I got here last year," said Smiley, "I asked the question, 'What do we do for our teachers?'"
One of the answers became the "Wrapping Arms Around the Schools" program. The initiative is designed to bring the community into a tighter partnership with the schools. Additionally, it will give Soldiers the support time they need -- and, perhaps, think they do not have -- for their children's education.
To support this initiative Smiley provided the opportunity, by command directive, for all parents to be with their children on the first day of school, stating he hoped parents and all the family members would become more active in the schools, using effective two-way communication with teachers.
To spread awareness of school events to community members, Smiley said every conveyable method of information is available for educators through things like Facebook, the Armed Forces Network and local host nation television and newspapers.
Furthermore, every day presents an opportunity for garrison residents to directly assist students. Ryan Goodfellow, a recent Bavaria District Teacher of the Year, teaches math at Vilseck High School and said he has an open-door policy for volunteers, because all kids, especially high school students, need extra guidance.
"Most of our teachers feel that way; they want to have that communication with the parents," said Goodfellow.
Vilseck High School Assistant Principal Kelly Pulliam wholeheartedly agreed, echoing Goodfellow's invitation.
"I'd like to see (parents) come in and volunteer in our building," said Pulliam. "We need mentors. We need people to show our kids respect, so they understand how the world works."
Fortunately, every Grafenwoehr community school partners with squadrons to meet this challenge. Soldiers teach students about leadership through mentorship programs at Netzaberg Middle School and Vilseck High School, and partner with younger children for special reading programs.
For some teachers, like English as a Second Language instructor Noemi Cuadrado, having extra hands in the classroom is a good first step.
"We need to … work with each other, not just on the nine-to-five schedule, but throughout the whole year," said Cuadrado, adding after-school activities, homework clubs and parent-teacher associations benefit students beyond the normal school day.
The only question remaining for the teachers at the event was how they could help children feel at ease during the day. Cuadrado's answer for her Vilseck Elementary pupils was simple.
"This is your home," Cuadrado would say. "I'm the new mom, you are my new kids."
It was a compassionate solution -- one that made this home away from home seem like a safer haven for everyone.