By T. Anthony BellNovember 1, 2012
COLONIAL HEIGHTS , Va. (Nov. 1, 2012) -- First grade teacher Jane Briggs noticed the immediate and visible impact the visitors had on the students in her classroom and was grateful for their presence.
"I cannot tell you how thankful I am," she said, "because I know they are busy and have so many things that are so important but nothing is more important than 6-year-olds learning to read."
Briggs, a teacher at North Elementary School in Colonial Heights, was brimming with pride and appreciation watching Fort Lee Soldiers interact with her pupils during reading activities Oct. 25 at the school.
"I'm watching the faces of the children but also the faces of the military, and it's so exciting to see the connection being made," she said during the reading sessions.
The Soldiers, all assigned to Alpha Company, 832nd Ordnance Battalion, 59th Ord. Brigade, located on the Ordnance Campus, are part of the unit's effort to extend hands of support to build meaningful relationships with the communities outside its confines, said its commander, Capt. Forrest Clay.
"The community outside the gate is the cornerstone of what we have here at Fort Lee," he said. "Every time we go outside those gates, those civilians are there to support us so we have to make sure we give back to them as much as they give to us."
During the most recent school visit, Eight Soldiers and one senior noncommissioned officer were on hand to help Briggs with her class of roughly 20 students. At one table, two Soldiers played a bingo-like game with the pupils, jokingly and gently urging them on. At another table, children read aloud as Soldiers listened. There were also many instances in which reading took a back seat to students' curiosity and questions Afterward, Soldiers said time spent with the children furthered their personal enrichment and aspirations.
"I love children, and I want to be a teacher one day," said Pfc. Ashley Kinsey, a 21-year-old Bamberg, S.C. native. "Anything I can do to brighten their day and perhaps help with their future -- all it fulfills me as a person."
Twenty-year-old Pvt. Rachel Bailey had similar sentiments. "I know I loved reading as a child," she said. "Even now, reading is a really big escape for me. I was telling one of the students the last time I was here that you can go anywhere you want to go and be anything you want to be reading a book."
Sgt. 1st Class Paula Bond, a member of the Alpha Co. cadre, spent much of her time with one child who on a previous occasion wasn't as open as the other children, displaying a level of shyness and introversion. He initially showed the same signs during this session but quickly opened up to the senior NCO. Bond was clearly enlightened by the experience and said getting to know the kids was just as valuable as the reading assistance.
"Being able to interact with the children is very rewarding," she said. "We make some great connections while reading to them and hearing them read as well as getting a little feedback on who they are, what they like, etc."
Clay, who has a son in Briggs' class, said he could have chosen a number of activities to make contributions but education has the biggest payoff.
"It is the foundation of everything," said the former middle school teacher. "We have to make sure we are educating those around us. Reading, science and math are going to help our economy, our Army, our world to be better places. It all starts with education."
Alpha Co. will continue to work with the school and hopes to adopt it in the future, said Clay.