By Monica Wood Hill, the CannoneerApril 3, 2008
Goodness happens at the local level, said Cathy Franks, wife of retired Gen. Tommy Franks, to the 79 counselors from 18 area school districts attending the Transition Counselor Institute during a luncheon at the Patriot Club.
According to Merlinda Tate, school liaison officer, the importance of the Transition Counselor Institute Phase I at Fort Sill was giving the counselors training on how to receive the military students who will be coming to this area because of Base Realignment and Closure.
"The counselors were given hands-on training and ideas to acclimate these students into the classrooms quickly, thus allowing the students minimal time to be 'the new kid.' These counselors came from surrounding school districts, Cache, Elgin, Fletcher, Flower Mound, Frederick, Walters, Boone-Apache, Walters, Sterling, Lawton, and Lawton Christian School," said Tate.
"The Army Family Covenant Initiative funded the training for our counselors, and once again our Army leadership has underscored their commitment to Soldiers and families by not only funding, but supporting collaborative relationships between our schools and installation agencies."
Tate said the reason behind the training is to give the counselors ideas about and be trained how to assimilate the children into the schools quickly so transitioning children are not new kids on the block for several weeks. "We want a nice smooth seamless process so that it benefits the children. If the children are happy, mom and dad are happy and the military person in that family can perform their mission effectively, so it benefits the family and the Army," she said.
Franks said it is important for the immediate classroom that a child is walking into to be aware and to make that child feel welcome.
"It's one thing for a superintendent or a commanding general to say, 'yes, we're going to welcome the children,' but if that doesn't get down to where it actually happens for that child who is walking in the door then it isn't going to help the child," she said. "It's important for that child to find someone to eat lunch with that first day. I know that's where it will make a difference."
According to Franks it is very important for parents to be involved. "We recognize at the Military Child Education Coalition that the parent is the child's first line of defense, and we want the parents to be involved in their child's education, and that will make a significant difference for that child.
Franks said the major challenge for Lawton-Fort Sill educators is the fact that there are so many people coming with the Base Realignment and Closure. "There are always military families moving in and out of the Lawton area, and this has been going on since I was in high school here myself," she said.
The Military Child Education Coalition has given this training all over the world, and Franks said she knows it will make a difference. "We have taken this same training to Japan, Korea and Germany, and through the training we listen to the counselors also, and they share with each other and they're learning from each other, so it isn't just that we're coming in telling you how to do it it isn't that at all. We're hoping this will make a transition easier, and I believe it will."
"We have families transfer in each and every year, and we provide great support. But we have more transitioning now, and we honestly don't know which of the 18 school districts they will go to," said Brenda Spencer-Ragland, director, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. "The Army Family Covenant is funding the training, which proves that the Army Family Covenant is a living, working action plan at Fort Sill."
"This training helps me to be more aware of the needs of military children and their concerns like whether a student can still try out for the cheerleading team or if it's too late to join the football team," said Tammy Fritz, a counselor at Cache High School. "There are things we as counselors don't think about, and this training has opened our eyes to more of the needs and concerns of military children that they may not voice to us."
Fritz said she has definite ideas of things to do with these new transitioning kids as they transition into the school district. "They'll avoid lunch altogether to avoid being singled out. So we need to include them by partnering them with buddies, military or not, just someone who has the same interests as that student so they will hopefully have a bond, something to talk about. That's one thing that it seems most of the schools in this area are doing and some of us might not be doing it to the level that others are. So it gives other counselors ideas so they can do that too."
Fritz said everything about the training has been wonderful. "I think the best component is being able to share your ideas, being able to talk to other educators and compare notes."
Susan Heiligman of the MCEC, who helped oversee the counselors' training, stressed the importance of the two-day workshop and the networking opportunities it provided the counselors.
"We are training teachers and counselors from all the surrounding schools in an effort to bring some collaboration between the military community and the surrounding area because we know coming together discussing issues and needs is vital to the success of our children, families, our schools and therefore our community," Heiligman said. "The more we can support families of the military, particularly if they are in deployment situations, the better we can serve them in respect to their academic success. We want to give them that layer of support that they need to feel more a part of the community, to fit in."
According to Heiligman, the counselors are getting some hands-on resources who they can call on if they have a situation where a child might need another layer of support that the school relies on other agencies to provide. The training helps to provide that transition support for the students who are transitioning.
She said many times schools are bombarded with new students, and they need to be able to be a little bit resilient on how to receive these students. She said she knows many families will be coming from Fort Bliss, so counselors in Lawton and the surrounding schools are going to be more knowledgeable in how to step up quickly and serve these families.
"I do believe that Lawton has made the strong effort to educate and train the counselors so that when they have a military family walk through their doors they will know what to do," she said.