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Institute Teaches Counselors Military Children's Hang Ups, Hang Outs

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, Aug. 1, 2002 – Fifty-two school counselors from around the world gathered here for a day-and-a-half conclave seeking better ways to help military-connected students as they move from one school to another across the globe.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Trainers Brenda Coffield (left) and Cathy Franks chat during a class break at the Transition Counselors Institute, sponsored by the Military Child Education Coalition . Classes, to help counselors and educators deal with military- connected students arriving at and departing from their schools, preceded.the annual coalition annual conference July 31-Aug. 2 this year in San Antonio, Texas. Photo by Rudi Williams.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Transition Counselors Institute trainers like Brenda Coffield and Cathy Franks are educators with secondary school experience, high school counselors, transition specialists, military parents and others. The institute strives to increase availability of specifically trained transition counselors who understand the needs of mobile military- connected students and have the skills to bridge the transition from school to school.

The Military Child Education Coalition Conference of Harker Heights, Texas, sponsors TCI. "The institute is in its third year," said Franks, wife of Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander of Central Command. "The first one was held in San Diego in July 2000. Because this institute is in three phases, some of our counselors are completing the cycle this year.

"We're a traveling institute. Just as our military-connected children are mobile, we're also mobile," said Franks, a former high school teacher. "We have given our TCI instruction in San Diego, Calif., and Tampa, Fla., and now here in San Antonio at our national conventions. We've also given on-site instructions in Savannah, Ga., and will give classes in Carlisle, Pa.; Fort Carson and Colorado Springs, Colo.; Fort Sill, Okla.; and in Puerto Rico later this year."

Franks said the institute makes a difference for military students, their parents and their schools.

"Part of the institute is simply bringing counselors together from all over the world," she noted. "Brenda and I are teaching Phase II this summer and of our 16 students, we have people from Korea, Okinawa, Germany, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Texas, Idaho and Oklahoma. Having them all together in the same room helps them learn from each other. They share ideas, and that's an important part of the institute."

"(The smooth transition of students) is a readiness issue for our military. It's also a retention issue," she said. "If the family is happy and having good experiences, we're more likely to keep that well- trained individual in the military rather than having them leave the military when their time of service is up."

MCEC developed a curriculum addressing the needs of the transitioning students, Franks noted. "We want to meet the needs of the counselors so the counselors will meet the needs of the students," she said. "We're training the counselors because the counselors are very often the first person that's there to help the military-connected child as they move from place to place."

A counselor at Ramstein (Germany) American High School since 1989, Coffield said many counselors have asked her, "Why didn't this start years ago, because it really helps us?"

"The idea of giving and receiving information and sharing is fantastic, especially when I get an e-mail from a superintendent saying, 'I heard you'll be able to answer this question for us,'" said Coffield, who has been involved with the institute since March 2000 as a representative of the Department of Defense Education Activity.

"I've never heard anything negative about the program. This is a wonderful institute and we'd like to see more parents, educators and students become involved," she said.

Coffield said the institute's training for counselors and educators focuses largely on high school students.

"That's the age where students either need credit or sometime lose credit in the transition stage," she noted. "We want to ensure we're communicating with everyone throughout the U.S. and the overseas schools. It's not just for the military schools, it's for all the military students in schools on military installation or in civilian schools that surround military installations."

Coffield said the institute's first phase is the transition -- making sure students get all their course credits and have their records available. The second phase students' address the emotional and social issues. The third phase is master transition counseling and forming expert partnerships with military installations.

In its infant stages, the institute surveyed various schools and asked students about their concerns and problems, she said. The students' No. 1 concern turned out to be having a lunch partner at a new school, she noted.

"Are we addressing that need?" Coffield asked. "Are we making sure that a student who moves in as a third-grader is aware that there is someone there that they will be able to talk to and introduce them to other students to ensure they have friends?"

She said parents also were surveyed. "Their main concern was wanting special time for their children. They also wanted you to treat their child as a very special child, as if the only child, which is normal," she said. "They wanted the best for their children."

Parents, teachers, administrators and counselors have to understand the children, Coffield emphasized. "You have to also remember what it was like when we were kids," she said. "Quite often adults forget. It doesn't take a book to understand that when I go into a room to eat, I don't want to eat by myself, most of the time."

Addressing the needs of children who participate in sports is another major concern. For example, a basketball player arrives at a new school and is told it's too late to try out for the school team.

"You can't do this," Coffield said. "Now we're saying to counselors, talk to the coaches. If you go to the coach and say, this student is new, just coming in from Texas and they'd like to try out for our team, the answer is yes. Just being that child's advocate quite often helps, because that coach wants to work with you.

"I find that most of the time, teachers, parents and administrators want what's best for the child because it makes their job easier," she added.

Having records available is one of the biggest problems for military- connected students arriving at new schools, Coffield noted. Many school systems don't allow parents to take records with them, she said.

The solution is simple, she advised: Hand-carry a copy of the school records or transcript or have the losing school send it by e-mail or fax.

Coffield said she gives TCI students the Web site address of the Military Child Education Coalition. "I do a monthly newsletter at my school and MCEC's address and information is always in it. Parents are using the information. It's a good way to access other schools," she said. "I always ask for a response, which is, 'I didn't know this existed.'"

Franks said adults often just look at the paperwork: "Sally goes to Room 12 and we think Sally is taken care of. But when it comes to lunchtime, and especially in our larger schools, which can have 2,000 students, Sally can be lost.

"Most high schools have various places where certain subgroups hang out. This is one thing we address in our curriculum, making the counselors aware of where the different groups in your high school or middle school hang out. Bringing awareness to the counselors with whom we work is very important because these counselors want to be there for the children. They want to do the right thing."

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