02/07/13 — Sharing their stories -- general's wife visits

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Sharing their stories -- general's wife visits

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 7, 2013 1:46 PM

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Kathy Wells reads a book to young students in the multi-age class at Meadow Lane Elementary School Wednesday. Mrs. Wells is the wife of Maj. Gen. Lawrence Wells, the 9th Air Force commander, who was visiting Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Kathy Wells knows what it's like to move around a lot.

As an "Army brat" and now wife of the 9th Air Force commander, she is also the mother of three grown children who has a soft spot for military families.

"We moved 25 times in 35 years, so my daughter, she's the oldest, when she was in first grade, do you know how many first grades she went to?" she asked the multi-age class at Meadow Lane Elementary School she visited Wednesday.

"1,000," guessed one student.

"No, but that's a lot," Mrs. Wells replied. "Three. We moved three times during her first-grade year."

"I moved a lot, too," student Katelyn Taylor said. "I moved here when I was in first grade."

As hard as that is, Mrs. Wells said, and as nice as the next place might be, there is always the temptation of wishing you were back at the last place you were; at least that's what she found with her own children.

"Enjoy where you're at," she suggested.

This was not Mrs. Wells' first time accompanying her husband, Maj. Gen. Lawrence Wells, stationed at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina and responsible for eight military installations throughout the Southeast, to Wayne County. But it was her first time visiting the schools, she said, and hopefully not her last.

While here, she visited Wayne Christian School, Wayne School of Engineering and Meadow Lane, where she read to students in Jenny Heim's combined first- and second-grade class.

"She wanted to visit a couple different levels of schools and of course, Meadow Lane being our highest (military) population, she requested that specifically," said Jamie Livengood, military counselor with Wayne County Public Schools.

As it turned out, Mrs. Heim and her instructional assistant, Suzie Tallarida, are both spouses of retired military, and have several military children in their classroom.

Not that any of that was obvious, though.

"When I was in the class, I couldn't tell the difference between a military child and a non-military child," Mrs. Wells said. "I like seeing that.

"That tells me that you are really doing a great job, everyone feeling at home and part of the community."

Placing a high premium on education, Mrs. Wells said it is probably the first thing active duty parents look for when moving to a new location -- the kinds of schools a community has, test scores, etc. And whether they opt for public school, private school or homeschooling, a "growing trend," she said, it's all about being comfortable in a new place.

"This community is so military-friendly, Air Force-friendly," she said. "I think they're as blue as we are on the base and that's exciting.

"But it's also a two-way street. Hopefully, we're giving back as much as we're receiving."

She said she was impressed with the combination of public and private school options, as well as advances that have been made to accommodate the military. She cited several examples of this, including the Military Child Coalition, working in all states to address needs unique to that population; the capability for parents, especially those deployed, to be able to check and access their child's grades from a remote location; as well as the addition of such staff positions as the liaison between Seymour Johnson and the school system.

"The leadership here, both in the community and out here at Seymour Johnson seems to have a great working relationship," she said. "That working relationship filters down in both communities."

Years ago, that level of outreach was lacking, she said, and it is encouraging to see that moving forward.

"We know that that's going to continue in the future. We know that when we come here and talk to the civic leaders, whatever it is, (they're receptive)," she said.

Her role supporting her commander husband as well as her passion for education entails traveling a lot and visiting other military bases. She praised Wayne County as being "one of the best communities we have."

She was especially impressed with one of the district's newest schools, Wayne School of Engineering, where she sat it on a student-led panel discussion.

"That was very enlightening," she said. "They were bright and articulate children. ... That was amazing, just the school itself, was just an amazing experience."

But the most fun part of her day, she said, was that elementary school classroom.

"I love education," she said. "My dream is to become a teacher."

All the military moves along the way didn't make that an easy task, but she has not given up on the notion.

"I'm very hopeful that when (my husband) does retire, I want to go back to school, get my degree and teach first grade," she said.