Adopt A School Program Helps Students, Soldiers Flourish

Story and photos by: Sgt. Joel F. Gibson
13th SC(E) Public Affairs Office

TEMPLE, Texas — A year apart can damage any relationship, but in the case of one school here, and a Fort Hood transportation unit, it only strengthened an already impressive bond.

Faculty and staff of Meredith-Dunbar Elementary School here honored Soldiers of the 49th Transportation Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), Feb. 1 with a military appreciation luncheon for volunteering to help students twice a week.

“I have a real good relationship with [Command Sgt. Maj.] Ricky Knox, [command sergeant major of the 49th],” said Rhonda Etheridge, principle of Meredith-Dunbar, “Monday and Wednesday, the Soldiers check in at the office, and look at schedules to determine where they are needed, the program practically runs itself.”

Etheridge continued, “Knox asked, ‘Do you want them in uniform or civilian clothes?’ We thought uniform would be great because a lot of our students don’t have authority figures in their lives. But with uniformed Soldiers in the classroom, it brings that presence in.”

One of the things all the teachers agreed on was the importance of providing quality role models for the children.

“Positive male role models are something a lot of our students don’t have,” said Tina Kelley, a kindergarten reading teacher at Meredith-Dunbar.

“If I were a student here, I would rather have a Soldier read to me than a parent, because Soldiers are just so exciting,” said Jeannette Johnson, a kindergarten language arts teacher at the school, “When my son was little, he was crazy about Army guys, and these Soldiers are such great role models.”

The Soldiers embrace their roles in the community, as much as the community embraces them.

“I get enjoyment out of helping kids and they really look up to me,” said Spc. Reynaldo Machado, an automated logistics specialist with the 49th, “It’s nice having someone look up to you.”

Kelley said the students have take-home readers where a parent is supposed to sign the end of the booklet stating the student has completed a given exercise.

She said the lack of completed readers really highlighted the need for more parental involvement, a void the Soldiers of the 49th have willingly stepped in to fill.

“I have many students who do not have parents who read with them,” said Kelley, “The Soldiers treat the students like their own kids.”

Kelley said, “The children read to the Soldiers and the Soldiers sign their books where a parent would.”

“I believe the kids really enjoy it,” said Spc. Paul Cunningham, a generator mechanic with the 49th, “The teachers told me when we show up the atmosphere totally changes.”

“When you have someone in a military uniform, it is so amazing, the pride and happiness in the students,” said Kelley.

Though the Soldiers help in all areas of study, some are more conducive to the special attention the Soldiers give.

“We put the Soldiers mainly with the reading classes, because that’s where they have the most interaction with the students,” said Jan Skala, a kindergarten math teacher at Meredith-Dunbar.

The partnership between the 49th and Meredith-Dunbar has been active for years.

“We were coming here before the deployment, but since we got back we’ve become a lot more actively involved,” said Spc. Loretta Kelhi, a transportation coordinator with the 49th.

“I’m really happy,” said Carson Ingram, 9, a third grader at the school, “The Soldiers come and help us learn, it’s a lot better with them helping us.”


CSM Knox and Meredith-Dunbar 4th Graders
CSM Knox and Meredith-Dunbar 4th Graders

Spc. Breban-Valentin and 3rd Grader Carson Ingram
Spc. Breban-Valentin and 3rd Grader Carson Ingram