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Education efforts in 2012 focus on partnerships

Redstone Arsenal
Published Dec. 20, 2012

The future of Team Redstone is in the hands of those that are students in elementary, middle and high schools across the Tennessee Valley today. To make sure they are well-equipped to handle the challenges of the future, Team Redstone has made it its mission to foster those future leaders.

This was a year of great strides in that aim, as the installation worked to forge better and new partnerships within local school systems to assist educators in shaping tomorrow’s scientists, engineers and leaders.

“One of our goals, as Team Redstone, is to expand educational partnerships in schools,” Barbara Williams, school liaison officer, said. “Team Redstone is serious about this partnership. It’s not in name only.”

Proof of that commitment, and a launching point to expand those partnerships came in 2012, when the Team Redstone Education Outreach Catalog was released to educators in October. The catalog provides a complete listing to area schools of all the education outreach opportunities available through Team Redstone, such as job shadow days, summer internships, speakers and Adopt-A-School programs. Since it was released in October, the catalog has been a hit, with so many speaker requests for Veterans Week Williams could not attend them all. The outreach opportunities available provide students with an inside look at what happens inside the gates every day, and the possibility that one day they too could be a member of Team Redstone.

“This is going to help students become more career and college ready,” Williams said. “How do you know what you want to be if you’re never exposed to the many opportunities that are out there? You may have your eyes set on something, and while it might be great, there might be something out there that’s greater for you. That’s the benefit for kids. It can open the door to many, many opportunities, including internships and exposure to different careers. Most kids probably don’t even know much of this stuff exists because if you don’t work on the installation you really would not know. You’ve got to be engaged with these organizations and see hands-on what they do.”

It is because someone took the time to show Russ Dunford a potential career path, that of a Soldier, that today he volunteers with the AMCOM Education Outreach Program, addressing local students from elementary to high school on a variety of topics, including the importance of education, the fun of math and science, and the problems in the world that exist that students could one day help solve.

“Those on the ‘outside’ only know Redstone as ‘Army’ – a place behind the fence, engineers that do a bunch of ‘stuff,’ we’re told the pay is good,” said Dunford, who retired from the military and now works as an IDM program analyst for Aviation Systems, Aviation Networks Mission Planning, Integrated Data Modem. “Seldom do they connect the dots and realize the importance of education and the secondary benefits of our research and development efforts, from medicine to lasers that we now use to cut metals or conduct eye surgery. I stress the incredible challenges we are given to solve, from food preservation to getting food and water to Soldiers halfway around the world, to vaccinating farm animals in Africa. It is important for the students to know it is their military and Redstone has a key role in making our Army function.”

To take advantage of these many opportunities, students don’t even have to leave their own hometown, said Linda Fowlkes, with the Expeditionary Contracting Command, who also speaks to area students about the opportunities available within the federal government.

“The opportunities are right here in Huntsville,” Fowlkes said. “We all want our students to be successful, but we have to steer them in the right direction and ensure that they are exposed to the opportunities available to them.”

Through Fowlkes’ example, and the example of many others, Team Redstone isn’t just providing students with information through the educational outreach programs, but is fostering the area’s future leaders, some of whom may even become Garrison commanders, like Col. John Hamilton.

“We cannot accomplish our mission without a highly educated work force,” Hamilton said. “We think a larger percentage of our work force will always come out of the local community, and so it is important to look at, ‘Where is Redstone 10 years from now? 20 years from now, 30 years from now?’ We are going to be relying on a highly educated work force. We need them to be prepared to take on the tough science and engineering challenges of our future, and some of that will start right here in the local elementary, middle and high schools of Huntsville/Madison County.”

At the Army Engineering and Support Center-Huntsville, professionals often go out into area schools to garner interest in science, technology, engineering and math, subjects the Tennessee Valley depends on.

“We, the Corps, are the nation’s engineers,” said Jo Anita Miley, public affairs specialist with the Army Engineering and Support Center-Huntsville. “We provide vital public engineering services in peace and war to strengthen our nation’s security, energize the economy and reduce risk from disasters. To remain relevant and continue providing quality support to the warfighter and the nation, we need to hire the best and the brightest. Our educational outreach program lets us have a hand in growing some of the best and the brightest. It’s an investment, not only in their future, but in our future, and that of the Corps of Engineers and our country.”

The year 2013 will see an expansion of the catalog to not only include education outreach from organizations and commands, but other on post programs, including Army Community Service and the Army Substance Abuse Program. The updated catalog will be provided to area educators at the Garrison Quarterly Education meeting in February. Through the inclusion of these programs, Team Redstone will be able to reach all aspects of a student’s life, not just academics. Williams anticipates other opportunities will arise throughout the year, such as for suicide prevention month or Red Ribbon Week.

“If you’re whole as a person, then you’re going to be a better student,” Williams said. “If you don’t have to deal with issues of substance abuse, you’re going to be able to focus more on your studies and your career. This expansion of the catalog addresses emotional and social needs as well. Kids and teens are dealing with a lot of issues. When they have a resource or a professional that can share information on issues they may be dealing with, or someone in their family or friends may be dealing with, they can use that information to help them be better emotionally, socially and physically.”

Another accomplishment in 2012 for Williams, which will continue into 2013, is the growth of the Youth Sponsorship Club on post, and the continued success of its mirror image in the community, the Student 2 Student program. Both efforts provide relocation support for incoming students in the Tennessee Valley to help them acclimate to their new environment quickly and effectively, providing them with the resources and friendly peers needed to settle into their new school and life in Alabama and on Redstone Arsenal. The adult supervised, student led Youth Council Club on post is comprised of 8 to 15 students, who plan monthly events for incoming families, and team up with new students to show them around, share information about their schedule and what they’re involved in, and serve as their mentor through the transition. The same concept exists at five high schools off post – Huntsville, Grissom, Bob Jones, Columbia, and new this year, Sparkman. Thirteen middle schools also have a Junior Student 2 Student program in place. For many new students, the Student 2 Student program and Youth Sponsorship Club serve as their lifeline.

“It’s essential for not only a smoother transition, but an easier method to getting acclimated to the curriculum, extracurricular activities, the culture of the school, all of that,” Williams said. “If you as a newcomer have to find your way by yourself it takes a lot longer, but when you have a child or a teen who you’re paired with, a positive peer, then you can get acclimated much sooner, to not only the culture of the school, but what it has to offer, the activities, just ‘fitting in’ so to speak. It could be the difference between walking around not knowing and being lost, versus coming in the first day and feeling like, ‘I know something about the school. I know how to get to my first class. I have a peer group I can eat lunch with. For the Friday night ballgame I know somebody.’ Sometimes kids are reluctant to get involved when they go to a new place because they don’t know anybody, they don’t know anything about the school and they’re afraid to ask. They don’t want to stick out or people to think that they don’t know. You remove all those barriers by having someone there for them when you get there.”

Student 2 Student is not just for military children, but any new student at the school. At Sparkman High School, about 100 new students have come into the school since the start of the 2012-13 school year. The program has helped those newcomers transition to what many consider to be a city unto itself, with nearly 1800 students enrolled.

“We want to get them to a place where this is a positive experience for them, to take the focus off what they feel they might have lost, they’ve lost their friends, they’ve lost the familiarity,” said Katherine Neis, who advises the program at Sparkman. “We want to put the focus on what they can gain from this experience – new friends, new relationships, new opportunities. The motto of Student 2 Student is ‘100 percent acceptance, 100 percent of the time.’ That is our goal, to make the students feel that they are accepted from day one.”

Williams plans to have a Student 2 Student summit on post in 2013, bringing together all participants from the Student 2 Student and Junior Student 2 Student programs in the community, as well as members of the Youth Sponsorship Club on post. Together, they will review their mission and share their ideas and concepts, to see what other schools may be doing.

“It’s important for the students to come together, because I think they can walk away with a wealth of information that would help their program to grow,” Williams said.