DoDEA Uses Technology to Take High School Graduations to Troops
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 19, 2005 While deployed parents can't actually attend their senior's graduation, U.S. Army Europe and the Department of Defense Education Activity are making sure that they can watch.
With so many of its students' parents deployed in support of the global war on terrorism, DoDEA has found a way to show that it appreciates the sacrifices of deployed troops, DoDEA Director Joe Tafoya said in an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel.
For the third year, DoDEA, will be providing a live satellite Web cast from high school graduations to forward deployed parents. Because of the size and scope of the project -- 18 DoD Dependents Schools-Europe schools this year -- USAREUR has contracted a company to handle the live feeds.
"The graduation project is a partnership between USAREUR and DoDDS-Europe to broadcast graduation ceremonies from DoDDS-Europe high schools affected by deployments," said Frank O'Gara, public affairs officer for DoDDS-Europe. "USAREUR has secured funding to contract the broadcasts from 18 schools using Web technologies and video streaming."
Other agencies and commands will provide support and assistance, he said.
USAREUR also has agreed to include any DoDDS high schools where seniors are affected by deployments, regardless of which installation they are located on. That means, O'Gara said, that seniors and servicemembers from the Air Force and the Navy will benefit as well.
Even students not graduating will benefit from the project, Tafoya said.
"We've also tried to make it a learning activity," Tafoya said. "At Bamberg (High School in Germany) last year, the people manning the camera were our students in our video technology class. So, they also get involved in it in terms of how do they do a broadcast."
Bamberg students are not alone in their efforts, though. Both Walt Seely, principal of Wurzburg High School, and Dominick Calabria, principal of Baumholder High School, also in, said that students in their video production classes also have worked on the project. This year will be no different,t according to the principals.
Each of the two school's video production classes will again work to provide the images that will be transmitted to parents downrange. Seely said that the contractor offered the option to let the students participate, and they welcomed the opportunity.
"We have a video productions program, so our kids are going to jump at the opportunity," Seely said. "Last year our kids did the whole thing. This year it's going to be the private company and our students.
"We have ... lots of very enthusiastic kids, so they just kind of jump on this," he said. "They love it."
Calabria's students have an extra challenge that follows a precedent set during last year's ceremony. Not only will they provide video of the ceremony, but they also will provide video of the family of each student affected by deployment who is seated in the audience. It's tough, Calabria said, but the students behind the cameras locate the families ahead of time.
This year, he added, there will be an extra treat. The Baumholder command is sponsoring a two-way feed so that those attending the Baumholder graduation ceremony will be able to see those watching from Afghanistan.
After the ceremonies, there will be time to talk with the deployed parent one-on-one through a video teleconference, both principals said.
Every effort is made by the command to allow a deployed parent to attend the Web cast. But if a parent is deemed mission essential or for some other reason can't be in front of the computer or big screen to see the ceremony live it, doesn't mean he or she misses out completely. Tafoya said the ceremony is burned to a DVD and shipped to each deployed parent with a graduating senior.
This is just another learning experience for the students who taped the program, Seely said. He said his video production students also edit the finished DVD that was sent to deployed parents.
If there is family elsewhere that cannot attend in person, they too can drop in on the Web cast, Seely said.
"(The) families of graduating students all get a Web site and password so they can view the broadcast. We only will have five graduating students with a deployed parent, but 120 students graduating," he said. "These students can pass the site and password on to family members in the USA or elsewhere to watch as well. All benefit from what is done mainly for the deployed parents.
"My oldest son was in the invasion of Iraq and I remember how precious it was for him and us each time we could talk," he continued. "I know all the families value this, and the broadcast is a great opportunity for them."
And that's the reaction he's seen from both parents and students, O'Gara said.
"It is really powerful," he said. "For many of these students, it is not unusual to have a parent absent at a significant life event due to deployments. Many soldiers were in the first Gulf War when these kids started school. They are back there (or in other places) today as they graduate. It is very rewarding to see the smiles and tears of seniors when they know that mom or dad is watching from afar."
While neither Baumholder nor Wurzburg has many seniors affected by deployment this year, both principals anticipate this project continuing for some time.
"Next year ... we have most of the soldiers from Baumholder leaving again," Calabria said. "(That) means that they'll still be there for next year's (graduation)."
Tafoya said he realizes it's extra work for the principals of the schools involved, but they don't mind.
"I know how difficult graduations are," he said. "To add to that another kind of requirement ... our principals do it willingly. And I'm just so proud of them and the staffs that put a lot of extra time in it and members of the community and of the base themselves. They believe that this is important and they make it happen.
Tafoya said that DoDEA believes it's important that parents downrange feel a part of what's happening back at home.
"Anything we can do to promote that, we're looking forward to doing that," he said.