A group of educators from Kansas State University went back to school for a day when they visited Fort Riley to learn about educational, developmental and recreational services on post for military children.
During their Dec. 6 visit, about a dozen staff members with K-State's College of Education visited the Middle School Teen Center and Ware Elementary School, as well as toured a model home in the Forsyth neighborhood and Quarters One.
Learning more about the installation provided valuable insight on multiple levels, according to Janel Harder, administrative officer, Center for Student and Professional Services, K-State's College of Education.
First, learning about some of the challenges facing military youth, as well as programs and resources, will better equip College of Education students to work with that population, she said.
Second, military dependents, spouses and veterans also might consider becoming educators in the future. By better understanding the military culture, the College of Education would be poised to better cater to their distinct needs, she said.
"Our college students that we deal with go out into the schools in their field experiences. They have to know how to deal with children of military," Harder said. "Those children of military potentially want to go to college. We deal with them. Then once they get to college, we deal with them."
Lastly, it helps staff members understand college-aged students who come from a military background, so they can better address their needs, added Sandra Abalos, academic adviser, College of Education, K-State, who also is a military spouse with children in the education system.
For example, a college student whose family is military might enroll in a local school, only to have his or her family move to another duty station, Abalos said. That student then might need additional help adjusting.
"As an adviser, you have to take into account (military affiliation) sometimes, especially when we're talking about dependents or family members," Abalos said. "How do we help (a student) feel more comfortable being here by herself without her family?"
While at the teen center, the educators heard from Col. Andrew Cole, Fort Riley garrison commander, who briefed them on Fort Riley's history, student demographics and the benefits of having military families in the region.
Additionally, Cole said many units on post sponsor area schools as part of the Adopt-a-School program.
"Most of our schools have some form of unit associated with it. It's a great opportunity (for Soldiers) to get out and to see what your kid's doing and to meet those who are involved in the raising and the education of your children," he said.
Cole said he knows firsthand what it means to be educated as a military dependent.
"I am proud to say … I was a federally-connected child. I grew up as an Air Force dependent all the way through my education years," Cole said. "I love it, and I endorse it, and I wouldn't have had it any different."
Harder, who also grew up as a military child, said she is familiar with many issues students continue to face today.
"What I personally faced was going into a new school and having a totally different curriculum than the last state or country we lived in, and having to either catch up or them to catch up to me. That was the main thing. And, of course, making friends," she said. "Those two things are what I think most military kids find the hardest because they're never in the same place as the last school they went to when they go to a new school, whether it's in the middle of the year or at the end of the year, or the beginning. It doesn't matter. They're never in the same place curriculum-wise."
During the visit to Ware Elementary, the school's principal, Deb Gustafson, discussed some of the distinct challenges of serving the military community.
With a turnover rate of about 55 percent each school year and enrollment rates ranging anywhere from about 550 to 850 students, Ware Elementary must constantly integrate students, Gustafson said.
"We are a revolving door," she said. "Our enrollment ranges significantly."
Despite the challenge, Ware Elementary excels thanks, in part, to its emphasis on four key values – vision, climate, teamwork and accountability, she said.
"We are providing a service to the nation. We tell our teachers all the time: We're not just educating kids out at Fort Riley. We're educating the world," she said. "These kids are not going to live in Kansas. These kids are not from Kansas. They're not going to stay in Kansas. They're going to travel all over the world. They're our future, and we have an absolute moral obligation to make sure that when they leave our doors, they're the best students they can be and ready to achieve great things."
Gustafson also said, as a professional-development school, Ware Elementary also focuses on newer educators to ensure they receive quality on-the-job training. "We take the fact that we are a professional-development school extremely seriously," she said. "We believe that all interns should do their internship and be trained in a highly receptive environment. We take the responsibility to keep our learning environment among the very best it can be because we are responsible for the next generation of teachers."
Sonya Douglas, coordinator, Child, Youth and School Services, also spoke to the group about programs, facilities and other resources available for military dependents, like School Age Services; the teen center; the HIRED! program; youth sports; Schools of Knowledge, Inspiration, Explorations and Skills Unlimited; the Exceptional Family Member Program; Military Family Life consultants; school liaison officers and more.
"CYSS' sole mission for existing is to reduce the conflict between mission readiness and parental responsibility," Douglas said, adding that Fort Riley also provides a variety of volunteer, intern and employment opportunities for K-State students as well.
For Abalos, having the opportunity to see so many different facets of programs and services for Fort Riley's military children was enlightening, she said.
"I don't really come to post often, so it's nice to be able to see the facilities and what's offered, and how it's different from the other posts that we've been in," she said. "From my perspective, it's been good to see the different aspects of it."