Messages Home: A new education at two schools

September 28, 2009 by

Sister Loretta Jasper is serving as a “military life counselor” at Fort Rucker, Alabama, for six weeks this summer. This is her second “Message Home” about her time there. To read her earlier report, click HERE for the first and HERE for the second.

Sisters, Agrégées and Associates,

Today, Sept. 28, 2009, begins my fourth week in the Fort Riley area. Seven of my colleagues began working in nine schools within the Fort Riley area: one high school in Junction City — off-base; one middle school and five elementary schools on-base; and two elementary schools off-base. When we rotate from this assignment at the beginning of Christmas vacation, another group will rotate in during the second semester. We first-timers in these schools and in this position within Fort Riley are setting the tone for those who continue.

The three off-base schools require Kansas-licensed mental health therapists. That includes me. I have the privilege of working within two very different elementary schools outlying Fort Riley. Spring Valley Elementary (350 students-K-5) is on the western edge of Fort Riley, in its third year of operation and is located in a newly established neighborhood comprised mostly of military families. Ogden Elementary (250 students-K-6) is an established school and community on the eastern edge of Fort Riley. Spring Valley is in the Geary County school district; whereas, Ogden is in the Manhattan school district. The two schools are about 25 minutes apart, which makes the drive between them a feast for my eyes, given the panorama of the Flint Hills. I am in each school two days per week, and rotate Fridays. Each of the districts is on a different schedule re parent/teacher conferences and planning days, which provides me with the opportunity to be more available to parents as they stop in for conferences and then to staff during the planning days.

The schools are staffed with spouses who are either in the midst of the soldier or adult child coming to or from Iraq/Afghanistan. The parents or caregivers of the children (since both parents or the single parent is deployed) are tending to the day-to-day of home, children, daily responsibilities and adjustments with to/from deployments. The children are trying to focus upon school, home, absent parent in the midst. Some spouses/caregivers are gainfully employed while the soldier is deployed “to keep the light bill paid”; and some are employed to keep their minds occupied in the soldier’s absence. Simply stated: we were not born with an equal set of skills to tend to life… some folks are doing well. Each person is doing life as (s)he knows best at a given moment.

The really good news? Each of “my” two schools is delighted to have me/my position in the school. This is understandable, given the thumbnail sketch provided in the above paragraphs. My/our role wherever we go is to support/assist. For persons who want outcomes and long-term effects? I am only able to know what happens in a moment… the inching along of life: the contemplative life-stance at its best… being in the right place, with the right heart-touch, at the right moment.

If a teacher welcomes my presence in the classroom to sit with and assist a wiggly child in tending to getting the number sentence or letter completed… yes! If the secretary shares a story about her own or her spouse’s transition from Viet Nam, listen! The principal shares about his recently married daughter adjusting to spouse being deployed to Iraq. A pint-sized kiddo has difficulty settling into math problems states his stepdad will be deployed in January and he is to be the “man of the house.” I am there! A student teacher from KSU while fixing a bulletin board in the school hall shares that she has a nervous stomach and cannot sleep because the man whom she married just prior to his deployment is returning within the next 48 hours. How about the child who is not eating lunch, and my negotiating he eat at least three bites to fuel the rest of the day. Who knows what I happen upon with staff, kiddos, parents as I walk the school hall or sidewalk. I am there! Support/assist/presence/listen/re-direct/problem solving.

Mom shares lunch with child in lunchroom and states they not only just moved here, but spouse was just deployed. A child was particularly belligerent in Physical Ed. one morning. Both parents, with Dad in uniform, shared lunch with the child… Dad returned from Iraq within the past 24 hours. A cluster of five kindergarten moms sitting together outside of the school with toddlers in tow, waiting the close of the day echo: “Our spouses are all in Iraq.”

Next step?

This week, the start of weekly support gatherings in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening for spouses, soldiers and caregivers in the school library.

Next week: Lunch in the library for kiddos with pre-deploy, currently deployed, post-deployed parents to connect and share.

Are you with me? I know it!

Loretta Jasper, csj

Comments

3 Responses to “Messages Home: A new education at two schools”

  1. Helen Mick on October 1st, 2009 12:02 pm

    Thanks, Loretta, for being present to people in that way. What a blessing for all!

  2. Jean on September 29th, 2009 7:32 pm

    Loretta, what amazing stories….and the privilege you know you have to be with them as they happen. Blessings of peace, joy, compassion, and all the gifts you have to share and be with them.
    With prayer & care!
    Jean

  3. Pat McLennon, CSJ on September 29th, 2009 3:34 pm

    Your ministry among our military families is so needed to give them added support and care. Know of my prayer for them and for you! Pat

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