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El Paso County Colorado District 49

Falcon program for military kids a national model

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Falcon High School May 9 to discuss how schools can ease the transition for military-connected students during deployments and reassignments.The Falcon High Students 2 Students organization and Colorado’s Troops to Teachers were highlighted in a round table discussion about what the Pikes Peak region school districts are doing that can be applied nationwide.Duncan, his family and Department of Education staff were welcomed by a Falcon High School Junior ROTC honor guard and songs performed by the Rocky Mountain Classical Academy’s fifth-grade choir. Duncan participated in a panel discussion moderated by Matt Meister, District 49 director of communications.ìWhen you talk about two million children in military-connected families, it’s a huge population across every state in the country,î Duncan said. ìThen add six or seven moves around the country across a career for each family, and that’s a huge challenge. We need to do whatever we can do to provide a great learning experience.îFalcon High’s Students 2 Students program has been nationally recognized for pairing newly transferred students with existing students to ease the transition, Meister said. FHS students Maddie Brewerton and Leah Petrie represented the S2S program on the panel. Brewerton and Petrie explained to Duncan how members introduce the new students to the school and community to make sure they feel welcome and understand the student resources available to them.Programs like S2S also benefit military parents who may be deployed when their children have to start at a new school, said U.S. Air Force Col. Charles Arnold, Jr., who represented the military on the panel. ìIn my own case, my daughter had to switch schools while I was deployed, and so you make that phone call home to ask how that first day of school went,î Arnold said. ìWith programs like Students 2 Students, it does ease that stress for the parents about the transition.îìI worry when I travel away from my kid for a three or four night trip,î Duncan said. ìBut you have these parents who are gone for six, nine, 12 months. The psychological toll that can take on students can be huge.î Schools have asked for additional training for counselors to help students deal with parent deployments, said Monty Lammers, District 49 Falcon Zone innovation leader. Better communication between local bases and the school districts on the timeline of deployments and returns will help make sure students get proactive support, rather than allowing behavior issues from deployment stress to become disciplinary problems, Lammers said.ìThe lack of consistency in standards across the country is a challenge,î Arnold said. ìWe are extremely lucky here in Colorado Springs and in the national capital region for consistency for military students.î Parents tell local commanders that moving into Colorado Springs area schools is the easiest transition they make throughout the country, Arnold said.Sand Creek High School principal Ron Hamilton, who attended the event as a spectator, asked the Students 2 Students volunteers to visit his campus to help start the organization there. ìI’d like you to come to Sand Creek to work with our students and help widen some of those benefits for students within our district, so they have the kind of support you offer here,î Hamilton said.Duncan said he intends to take the information he learned from the Falcon High School visit and similar discussions across the country to create guidance, recommendations and best practices for schools to work with local military. ìMilitary members never ask for anything for themselves, they always ask me, ‘Please help our kids,’ and so we really owe their children everything we can give them,î Duncan said.ìThis community deserves tremendous praise for really trying to provide this. I really want to commend the students. Student initiative is so important. These skills you are developing by helping your peers is really going to shape you for the rest of your lives.î

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