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Military volunteers needed in community schools

Sharon McBride

Fort Richardson PAOSgt. Vincent Marshall, 4th Quartermaster Detachment, visits hid daughter, Andrea, 7, during

 Military children face a variety of distractions, to include the deployment of a parent, during the school year.

“Our schools have a tough job working with our kids throughout the cycle of deployment,” said Brian Griggs, the Children and Youth Services school liaison at Fort Richardson.

“Teachers with military students in their classes have to work twice as hard to keep everything running smoothly,” he said.

Military personnel can take the load off teachers by volunteering, wherever and whenever they can.

 “But in reality, volunteers within our schools have been lean since 9/11,” Griggs said. “The bulk of volunteers used to come from the military, but due to frequent deployments, the numbers have gotten lower.

 “We continue to appreciate those who have continued to volunteer, but the reality is our schools can always use more,” he said.

During a deployment cycle, volunteering at schools may be the last thing on everybody’s mind, he said.

“Other things and issues can take priority, and that’s OK,” Griggs said.

However it’s because of volunteers that school staff and teachers are able to accomplish so much more during the school year.

“We know the military life is unpredictable, but volunteer wherever and whenever you can,” said Carol Comeau, the Anchorage School District superintendent. “An extra set of hands are always welcome in the classroom.”

Staff Sgt. Tonya Flowers, a single mother assigned to the 164th Military Police Company, is a regular visitor to both her sons’ classrooms. Altonio is 9, and Jhai is 7, and both children attend Ursa Major Elementary School.

“As a parent, I think it’s important to show an interest in what they are doing at school,” Flowers said. “The more involved I am, the more they realize school is important.”

During the school year, her enthusiasm spilled over onto other children.

“I remember at one point I was feeling really frustrated because it can be hard sometimes to get time off from work to come over here, and a little girl in my son’s class gave me a note,” she said.

The note was a heart felt thank you.

Staff Sgt. Robert Chamberlain, 59th Signal Battalion, and his wife, Saleena, check up on“I got all teary-eyed,” she said. “But it made me realize, as Soldiers we are in a position to influence not only our children, but someone else’s.”

To date, there are 50,000 students in the Anchorage School District. Of that number, more than 5,000 are military dependents or affiliated in some way with the military, Griggs said. There are also a large percentage of military dependents among the approximately 16,000 students who attend school in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District.  

There are 36 schools in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, with more than 1,600 military dependents as students.

These numbers add up to a lot of students with unique needs that school staffs are sometimes struggling to meet, before, during and after a deployment, Griggs explained. 

At times the needs are complicated, but often they’re not.

“Sometimes kids just need a buddy, someone besides their parents or teachers to listen to them,” Comeau said.

Especially for those children who might be lacking a male role model at home, she said. 

“Volunteering creates connections on a personal level that everyone can benefit from,” she said.

The disruptive forces of the deployment cycle can be minimized by volunteering, Griggs said.

“Volunteering is a positive thing that can offset some of the challenges experienced by our military kids throughout the deployment cycle,” Griggs said.

Sgt. Vincent Marshall, assigned to 4th Quartermaster Detachment, agreed. And while the operation tempo is nonstop, Soldiers need to take advantage of time at home to get to know their children’s teachers before they deploy. He said volunteering in the classroom is an easy way to break the ice.

“You need to build that relationship with the staff,” Marshall said. “It helps with the process of your children getting an education. I know it helps with mine.

“Even when I am deployed, the teacher communicates with me through e-mail,” Marshall added. “It keeps us seeing eye-to-eye when it comes to educating my kids.”

There are a variety of simple ways to volunteer within schools that are simple, Comeau said.

“We know parents are extremely busy, especially our military parents,” she said.  “We don’t expect every parent to become a member of the (Parent Teacher Association).”

Sometimes that little extra can mean eating lunch once a week with a child, helping with homework or volunteering to listen to young readers in the classroom, she explained.

Sometimes volunteering can extend beyond the classroom.

Staff Sgt. Robert Chamberlain, with the 59th Signal Battalion, not only volunteers in his children’s classrooms, he coaches a youth softball team.

“Besides my son, there are about 10 of his classmates on the team,” he said.

Volunteering isn’t limited only to those Soldiers who have children in school.

“Two of my Soldiers who aren’t married or have kids help me coach the softball team,” Chamberlain said. “They say it’s a blast.”

Soldiers provide an example that goes beyond just wearing a uniform.

“There’s a lot of expertise that can be shared,” Comeau said. “When military volunteers come into schools, I think it helps kids understand what it means to serve the public. Young people don’t necessarily understand the principles behind public service like they should. The military is a positive example of that.”