America Supports You: Foundation Offers FACTs to Schools
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 27, 2007 With some new software and common audiovisual equipment, a New Jersey-based foundation is giving schools the chance to talk via video teleconference with deployed troops.
“It’s an opportunity for these kids to talk directly to (servicemembers) and to see a point of view that you don’t otherwise get,” said John Harlow, executive director of Freedom Calls Foundation.
The foundation is a supporter of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, which connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.
Most schools have all the necessary equipment to hold a FreedomCalls American Classroom Teleconference, or FACT, he said. The most important requirement is that the school must have an Internet connection. The foundation provides software necessary to connect to its network and helps the school configure it.
The foundation has connected about 100 schools with one of four locations in Iraq through its established network. The group is hoping to increase that number to thousands next year, he said.
“It’s a very popular program from kindergarteners right up through college,” Harlow said. “College kids in particular seem to gain a perspective from this.
“It’s a tough crowd, but they universally come away with comments like, ‘Wow, I talked to these people that are my own age. I learned a lot from what they had to say,’” he added.
Younger students get a better understanding of and an appreciation for what life is like for deployed troops. They discover, for instance, what troops eat and what the living environment is like.
“They do ask questions like, ‘Did you kill anybody today?’” Harlow said. “But they do get a better perspective on what war is really like and what war life is like.”
Mary Lund, a fourth-grade teacher at Garfield Elementary School in Port Huron, Mich., can attest to that. Though she didn’t give her students all the gory details, attacks on the base where servicemembers had planned to speak to her students postponed her first conference.
“That really made the war real to me, knowing the people we were going to talk to were actually fighting,” Lund said. “For me, as an adult and as a teacher, it was really bittersweet that day.”
She was able to reschedule that first FACT conference and has since organized another for her students.
“I think it’s very good for the children, because they can respond in a positive way about the war,” she said, explaining that this connection helps answer questions many of her students may have. “I’m seeing children come in that have relatives in Iraq, have lost relatives, (or are) wanting to send mail to relatives (who serve). It is touching their lives.”
FACTS are free to accredited schools and can be scheduled by contacting Kathryn Hudacek, the foundation’s development director via phone at 973-290-7886 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Requests must be made at least two weeks in advance of the event.
In addition to the FACT program, which is just formally being launched, the Freedom Calls Foundation offers servicemembers and their families several ways to stay in touch and keep from missing important milestones. It provides about a million minutes of free telephone calls a month over its own network, saving military families about $200,000.
More than 2,000 video teleconferences are conducted for families each month, as well, Harlow said.