03/06/06 — Liaison helps schools deal with miilitary families' needs

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Liaison helps schools deal with miilitary families' needs

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 6, 2006 1:50 PM

Nancy Mayo said she realized early on that children from military families have unique needs and might benefit from having someone to advocate for them.

While working at the Family Support Center, the licensed marriage and family therapist said she essentially talked her way into the job she has now held for more than two years, school liaison officer.

Although the position is common at overseas military installations, in the continental United States, she is one of about six people in the post, she said.

But that is expected to change.

"There's going to be a school liaison function at every base. They're recognizing that the military child has specific issues when it comes into the school system," she said.

Some issues might have to be resolved at the state or national level, but Mrs. Mayo said there are many things she can do through her office on base.

"I get calls from people at other bases, with a scenario of where they believe they're going to be living, ages of the children, questions on home-school and private schools, but the main focus is the public school setting," she said. "In many cases, the school is the stability for the child. It's important to keep their regular routines."

Her primary role is to recognize concerns from military families coming to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and then to work with the school system to address those questions, she said.

To date, some changes have been made to the public schools' Web site as the result of suggestions, she said. Also, for the first time, this year the school system offered a second semester open house at all six high schools.

"They really do all that they can for military students and give them the best education possible," she said.

An Education Coalition has been formed as one supportive measure. Made up of base and school personnel, the group has focused on different areas that will benefit a "mobile child," whether military or not, she said.

"(That includes) mainly information flow to parents, welcoming the children, easing the transition, getting the word out to military folks about the schools and what programs they have to offer," she said. Other areas being addressed include exceptional children, professional development, junior/senior moves, graduation requirements and extra-curricular activities.

The coalition has also set up quarterly luncheon meetings between the schools' superintendent and wing commander to informally discuss issues. Mrs. Mayo also regularly attends such meetings as those of the school board, the guidance counselors and Partners in Education, and is a member of the school system's calendar committee to "deconflict things that will be going on at the base with the school system," she said.

Staff and teachers at the schools are likewise given training.

"It really helps our educators if they realize what military families go through," she said.

Last year, several workshops were held on the effects of deployment on children and spouses. There were also deployment lines for teachers, guidance counselors and children, giving each group the opportunity to understand firsthand what happens during the deployment process.

Mrs. Mayo said she has been pleased to witness an excellent working relationship between the base and the school system.

"The school system really welcomes our children. They love to see military children in their schools," she said. "I think they do all that they can."

With military children in all of the public schools, teachers have responded well to sometimes difficult situations like wartime and deployed parents.

"They'll have classes make banners, adopt a family," Mrs. Mayo said. When there was a heavy saturation of news coverage about the war, schools were asked to have classroom televisions turned off.

She said she believes it has been an asset having someone in place to bridge the gap between the base and the district.

"I think it's really helpful for the school system to have a person on base," she said, mentioning situations like the one several months ago at Greenwood Middle School where two students, both military dependents, were struck down by a car while crossing the road to school.

"Any time something like that happens, we can give (the school system) a heads up," she said. Whether calling school officials or communicating with teachers and guidance counselors, "I think there's some efficiency and effectiveness in having a go-to person. They know who to call."

With ongoing deployments being the norm for many military families, Mrs. Mayo said that school officials have been empathetic. Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor ruled earlier this year that children whose parents were being deployed or flying in would be given an excused absence to attend.

"The schools recognize the importance of having the family unit send the member off and having the family unit welcome the member back," she said. "To Dr. Taylor that was a no-brainer. It wasn't that big of a deal, but to us, it really touched our hearts. That just shows that they're very in touch with the base and the base needs, and they're responding."