VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
In addition to the normal challenges of growing up, there are often many more stressors for military children to overcome. April is the month dedicated to celebrating these unique and resilient military children.
Crestview Elementary School has embraced this opportunity to show their support for military kids through various outlets.
“The Month of the Military Child is a time for us to emphasize the important role military children play in the armed forces community,” said Raymond Vasquez, 30th Force Support Squadron school liaison officer. “Military children lead unique lifestyles, with unique circumstances compared to their counterparts in public schools. Sometimes our military children relocate over nine times in their school careers. Many times with one parent deployed, TDY, or absent for one reason or another. Ensuring our schools are fully aware of these circumstances is just one of the goals of our program.”
This month’s events include an art and writing contest, guest speakers, lunch with parents, and the rearrangement of teachers to new classrooms.
“Teachers are relocating to different rooms to experience the feeling of having to make new friends and be in a new environment,” said Vasquez. “The purpose of this is to help the teachers empathize with the feeling of being out of their comfort zone.”
Although this month is dedicated to this effort, Crestview Elementary School provides support year round with implemented systemic groups to highlight and celebrate the different stages children are going through. These include a Deployment Group, Student 2 Student program and the Buddy Bench program.
“The most powerful thing about these support groups is that the children came up with most of the ideas themselves,” said Candice Grossi, Crestview Elementary School principal. “They bring me new ideas every day because they just want to belong to something and make it their own.”
The Deployment Group was created to provide support for the children who have a parent who is deployed, and to promote a safe place to talk about their feelings with other children in similar situations. The Student 2 Student program welcomes the incoming students and integrates them into their new school system with the help of their teachers and other students, creating a smoother transition.
“It’s all about the connection,” said Grossi. “Children feel most supported when they have someone to rely on and relate to, so they don’t feel alone.”
One of the most effective programs at Crestview are the Buddy Benches. Decorated and painted by the students themselves, the benches are placed on the playground for any child to sit on, signaling the need of friendship and support.
“The Buddy Benches are super successful, I have had kids come up to me and say ‘I’ve been here since August and haven’t met any real friends, but I made a new friend today because of the Buddy Bench’,” said Grossi. “Even if you’re not new and you just need a friend, when you sit on the bench it signals the other children to come over. The bench is a universal signal that somebody is in need of a friend.”
In addition to the support groups in place, Crestview also has a full-time Military Family Life Counselor to assist with the unique challenges military children may experience such as, stress and anger management, deployment and reintegration issues, grief and loss reactions, self-esteem and confidence, and communication skills.
“Our counselor, April Jackson, is so busy here, and I don’t know what we would do without her,” said Grossi. “The children feel extremely comfortable with her and will seek her out when they just need to talk or vent, which is so important in the school environment.”
The mental health of the children continues to be a top priority for Crestview Elementary School staff.
“The children often come here with a little more emotional baggage and stress, because they come from such a unique situation,” said Grossi. “Instead of looking at this as a challenge, I look at it as this is what makes us so special.”