As a military mom and spouse, Christine Cormier has the experience to anticipate the needs of students of families at the U.S. Army War College.
Where is the school bus stop? For that matter, where is the school? What are the school policies? What transcripts do we need to have? What sports or activities will the students be able to participate in?
Cormier helps answer all those questions as the school liaison for the War College. Her role is to coordinate with area school districts and teachers to make the transition as smooth as possible for families.
A number of local educators were honored Tuesday evening with an Excellence in Education reception hosted by Army War College Commandant Maj. Gen. Bill Rapp. This is the seventh year for the reception that highlights the relationship between the schools and military children.
Teachers and counselors were nominated for the honor by the superintendents of Carlisle, Big Spring, Cumberland Valley, Mechanicsburg and South Middleton school districts, as well as centers offering services at Letterkenny Army Depot and Carlisle Barracks.
“We need you and appreciate all that you do,” Rapp told the educators.
He said it is rare to see families in the pictorial history of the Army as they never figured prominently in the Army until the advent of the all-volunteer army in 1973.
“For many years, the standard saying was, ‘If the Army wanted you to have a family, they would have issued you one,'” Rapp said.
Now, the Army realizes that the family plays a key role in retaining personnel, he said.
A study by a professor at the Army War College found three factors affected stress during deployment or in moving to a new community — that they are granted access to activities, that they have a strong family, and that the community believes that the work of their parents matter. All of those are present in the Carlisle community, Rapp said.
For two days each summer, the Herd 100 program brings together new students from War College families with local students for two days of activities that help the new students become familiar with the people and the school, said John Friend, superintendent of the Carlisle School District.
“What we try to do is make them feel welcome and provide them with what they need,” he said.
The district also works with students’ families to assure they have the appropriate educational program in place. High school students, in particular, may have special issues surrounding the credits they have earned or that they need as well as with graduation requirements, as the requirements vary from state to state. Ultimately, Friend said the school wants these students to be able to graduate on time.
“Our high school does a good job of trying to adapt to what they need,” Friend said.
There are also plenty of logistical matters that must be addressed for the newcomers. Cormier takes a seasonal approach to introducing international students to the school system in the United States. In August, she talks about such issues as dress codes and school supplies, even bringing in a display of common school supplies so that the families know what the supplies are. Later in the school year, she explains what a snow day is and how parents are informed about snow delays and cancellations.
“For a lot of countries, this will be the first time seeing snow,” she said.
Lt. Col. Hichem Khalifa and his wife, Narjes Saadauoi, of Tunisia, have two children in the Cumberland Valley School District, an eighth-grade son at Eagle View Middle School and a second-grade daughter at Middlesex Elementary. Communication was one of their top concerns coming into the school year.
“My daughter, she’s 8 years old, and she didn’t speak English before. She was a little afraid,” Khalifa said.
In the last few years there have been students, like Khalifa’s daughter, who spoke no English upon arrival in the county. That causes real concern for parents as they ask, “How does my non-English speaking student get off the bus and know where to go?” Cormier said.
One solution has been to set up meetings with the English as a Second Language teachers and the families so that the students have a familiar face to see when they get off the bus at the school, she said.
For Khalifa’s family, a summer camp in July at which their children could learn the language was the answer. That experience, plus the attention they have received at school has turned the page, particularly for their daughter.
“She speaks English very well. She learned so quickly,” Khalifa said.
Richard Fry, superintendent of Big Spring School District, said welcoming students from the War College is an outstanding opportunity for students in his district.
“They bring so much to our culture. It’s almost like a foreign exchange student. Our students understand it’s a year and they embrace it,” Fry said.
Some teachers, like Tracy Lyons, a fifth-grade teacher at Iron Forge Educational Center, requests ESL students for her classroom. Lyons said the students are often curious and know some English, though they may sometimes struggle to find the right meaning to a word. One of the benefits of bringing in the students that they are “able to share their culture with the other kids because Boiling Springs is such as small community,” she said.
The families enjoy sharing.
Khalifa’s family was invited by the elementary school to share Tunisia’s culture, food and crafts during culture week at their school.
“The kids there are so smart and asked really intelligent questions,” Khalifa said.
Rapp, who will be leaving the college in August, has seen his children through different school districts, and has learned what it looks like when the schools and the military work together.
“This is what right looks like,” he said.