By Steven L. Shepard, Presidio of Monterey Public AffairsMarch 9, 2012
PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. -- A select group of Marines from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center along with other community volunteers assisted students at Monterey's Foothill Elementary to celebrate the 108th anniversary of Dr. Seuss's birthday by participating in Read Across America March 1.
Marines have been assisting Foothill Elementary regularly since January 2011 through a partnership that began when the school received a three-year DOD Education Assistance Grant targeting schools with large populations of military families. According to Foothill volunteer Linda Figlock, who has been involved with the program since its inception, the grant aims to improve student achievement, reduce learning gaps, and improve the feeling of connectedness of home and school for the highly mobile students and their parents.
Figlock said that so far more than 240 DLIFLC Marines have volunteered and racked up a total of more than 4,000 hours tutoring and mentoring Foothill students, helping teachers with paperwork, assisting in the school library, and during physical education and recess.
"The demeanor and professionalism and the age group of these Marines are a perfect fit," said Figlock. "They are young enough that the students can identify with them, yet they are extremely professional. The Marines have the great ability to keep the students focused on their work."
Figlock admitted that there was some hesitation by the first Marine volunteers who visited the school when the program began.
"The attitude of the volunteers has definitely changed," explained Figlock. "The first volunteers seemed very uncomfortable with the idea of working with small children. It was fascinating to watch a big, brave 6-foot-2-inch Marine come in and say 'I don't want to do this,' and then, after leaving the classroom, saying it was the most amazing experience of his life."
Figlock said that the program has become so popular among the Marines at DLIFLC that they now compete for the honor of being chosen to visit the school. She added that the service members have had such a positive effect on the students that the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District is looking to expand the program into other schools in the area.
"The next step to expand is contacting the individual military organizations to assess their availability and interest in providing volunteers to support the schools," said Figlock. "Groundwork has been laid at other schools to bring service member volunteers, but due to the small size of the Marine Corps detachment at DLI, other services would need to be involved."
Carmen Ferguson is a parent-volunteer whose son attends Foothill Elementary and she said that having the Marines at the school has been great.
"My son has had problems staying disciplined and focused in school, but when Marines are in the classroom he is so much better," said Ferguson. "He comes home talking about how they helped him and what they did. And now he shows off by behaving. They are a perfect example for him to emulate."
But it is not just the Foothill students who have been positively impacted by the program.
Pfc. Jeremiah Flynn said he heard about the program from other Marines who had previously volunteered at the school and said he believes that community service is an important part of military duty. He has volunteered at the school on four separate occasions and said he keeps coming back because it is so enjoyable.
"It's definitely beneficial, not just for the children, but it gives us some time away from the military scene and to be around everyday people while helping out the community. The willingness of these kids [is] amazing, they just want to soak up everything," said Flynn, who read David Shannon's "A Pirate Doesn't Change Diapers" to students for Read Across America. "I would like to take that child mentality of absorbing everything around you and apply it in my life to better myself."
Flynn said he remembers his father reading Dr. Seuss books to him at night until the seventh grade and said that having the opportunity to read to the children on Dr. Seuss's birthday is very special.
"It makes me feel like I am impacting their lives and planting the seed of the importance of literacy," he said.