SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- When Sgt. 1st Class Lee Knuckles walks his sons to school every day, he walks the same streets to Wilder Elementary School in Sumter, S.C. that he took as a child.
Knuckles, a Combined Operations and Intelligence Center noncommissioned officer in Third Army, met with his sons, Lee III, 8, and Cori, 4, and their fellow students Thursday, Nov. 17 when he and 15 other members of Third Army participated in American Education Week at the school.
"There was a playground over there when I went to school here," Knuckles said as he pointed to what is now the main entrance of the school.
Knuckles who was born and raised in Sumter, S.C., added that not only has the school changed physically in the 27 years since he attended it, but that students are being taught more at a younger age, including advanced instruction in technology.
The Third Army personnel came to Wilder Elementary School to read to the students, but also had the opportunity to convey to students the positive experiences in their career and speak to them of the advantages of a career in the military and government service. When the students were asked if they had any questions for their classroom guests, hands immediately went up. The questions ranged from, 'What do you do in the Army or have you met the president to what does the Third Army patch mean?'
"I volunteered today because this is a wonderful opportunity to represent the Army and give back to the community. Who knows -- there could be a future president or Rhodes Scholar that I am able to be a role model for," said Staff Sgt. Pamela Walsh, information systems manager, Third Army G-6, who read to the students in Amy Marotto's third grade class.
"My students very much enjoyed Staff Sergeant Walsh's read-aloud and visit. They have seen the 'Welcome Third Army' signs around Sumter and were curious what Soldiers do and what life is like in the Army. I'm happy that we could have an opportunity like this because all students need to see where an education can take them in life," said Marotto.
The theme for this year's education week is "Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility."
"Public education is free, so it is important for me as an educator to stress to the students to get all that they can get and be all that they can. It is really awesome for all of us to be able to celebrate education week and have visitors from the Army come to our school," said Maria E. Newton-Ta'Bon, Wilder Elementary School principal.
According to the National Education Association, American Education Week began in 1921 as a way to strengthen the public education system in a time where 25 percent of Americans were illiterate. Since then, it has been observed the week before Thanksgiving.
Third Army's visit to Wilder was part of Community Appreciation Day, to bring the students an awareness of the men and women in uniform and people from their community just like them who are making a difference, said Newton-Ta'Bon.
Dr. Vanessa Canty, the school's guidance counselor said that about 80 percent of the student population at Wilder Elementary School have no affiliation with the military.
"I went to Lemira Elementary School, just around the corner from Wilder and I have many memories from my childhood here. I hope to be a positive role model for the kids and give them an opportunity to talk with someone in the Army," said Staff Sgt. James Ealey, 30, the Third Army's G-5/Joint Operations Planning Execution System noncommissioned officer in charge, who like Knuckles grew up in Sumter, S.C.
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