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Admiral: Number of Youth With Poor Reading, Writing Skills 'Scary'

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

GROTON, Conn., July 25, 2003 – Many things have changed for the better for military people over the past decade or so, but moving a family is still one of the greatest stresses for service members, spouses and children, the superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy said July 23 at an educators' conference here.

Rear Adm. R. C. Olsen made these comments to more than 470 attendees at the fifth annual Military Child Education Coalition conference at the Mystic Marriott Hotel here. The Coast Guard Academy is in nearby New London, Conn.

"Your positive approach to the challenges military families face is a great strength of the Military Child Education Coalition," Olsen said.

He said the coalition doesn't "gripe" or lobby at the expense of other groups, and it's not adversarial. Those characteristics and strategy are key to the rapid success of the non-profit organization, which, in five years has helped millions of students and parents cope with the challenges and stress of frequent moves from one school system to another around the world, the admiral noted.

"The idea of creating partnerships and networks is the only way to do business," Olsen told the large gathering of teachers, counselors, administrators, parents and others from around the globe. "These synergies not only help the children of military families, they also help the schools, other students and members of the armed forces.

"You educate the public, school systems and the families," Olsen said. "I didn't know until this morning that you have a focus on families."

As a military commander, Olsen said, he recognizes what makes the academy run so well the families. Therefore, he said, it's a strategic imperative that he give the families the best quality of life possible so he can enjoy the best quality product available. And the U.S. taxpayers can enjoy that product as well.

Calling creating an academy child development center in the early 1990s "wildly successful," the admiral said, "The young children receive loving care and security as well as educational opportunities. When parents are comfortable and the children are safe they're much more prepared to perform their jobs. While recognizing diversity in families, the teachers provide the children opportunities they need to explore military life.

"Teachers include the tracking of a deployed ship to teach children about maps," Olsen noted. "One of our preschool teachers tracked the travels of the Eagle America's Tall Ship for the children. They'd visit the Eagle Web site and communicate via e-mail with one of the children's parents. The children also send special cards and artwork to the ship."

He explained that the center's director often works directly with children whose families are about to transfer and even contacts the child development center at the family's next base to ease children's anxiety and confusion.

He then called his wife, Maureen, to the stage to present a slide show about the center. She showed slides of children in a nautical community where they're exposed to boats, ships and sailors, academy cadets, the Coast Guard band and the waterfront.

After his wife's presentation, Olsen recalled being in the Groton area in the early 1990s when military children were not always welcome in some schools. "It was a very contentious and difficult time," he noted. "That's not true any longer. Now, the relationship between the military and the local schools is a model to be followed anywhere."

The admiral told the educators about a bad experience he and his wife had in Florida years ago. "My wife went to the school to talk about our daughter's concern about her math class after being transferred from Washington, D.C.," he said. Olsen said the counselor told his wife, "You military people always think that your children are so great and so smart that you need special treatment."

The school in question refused to move his daughter out of a math class that included material she was already familiar with. "She wasted a whole year in the wrong math class," Olsen said.

He said the local chapter of MCEC, which is also known as the Military/School Superintendents' Liaison Committee, meets on the first Thursday of each month, from September through June, to resolve issues affecting area Navy and Coast Guard children. "(One) of the issues they address is the transfer of school physicals, which is always a problem," Olsen noted.

Other problems include transferring school credits, establishing peer mentors for new students and expanding guidance counseling services to include transition assistance, he said.

"Another great output of this committee is that it keeps the military child in (the) front of everyone's mind as they discuss all aspects of their education," Olsen said.

The admiral also shared some of his thoughts on literacy rates in the United States. He said the appalling state of literacy throughout the nation is of great importance to him as a military commander and president of a college. "Among eighth graders nationally, proficiency levels in writing is 31 percent," he said. "For high school seniors, it's 24 percent. That's scary!

"Kids coming out of our school systems these days can't read and write," he said. "We need to fight this!"

He praised MCEC for having sessions dealing with reading and a program where parents are trained in how to help their children learn to read at home.

Olsen said there's an old saying that goes, "Before and up until grade four, you're learning to read. From then on, you're reading to learn."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe number of children leaving high school without good reading and writing skills "is scary," Rear Adm. R.C. Olsen, superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy told more than 470 attendees at the fifth annual Military Child Education Coalition conference in Groton, Conn. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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