Military children a focus in Houston County for April

April is the Month of the Military Child, and in places like Houston County, that is an important designation.

About 24 percent of the county’s students come from military families stationed at Robins Air Force Base, and that means school officials have to take the challenges those students face into account.

“I admire you for what you go through,” school board member Hoke Morrow said at last week’s board meeting.

At that meeting, where members of the armed forces and their children in attendance were recognized, the board was told that children in military families move an average of six to nine times during their school years.

Board member Fred Wilson retired from the Air Force in 1986, with Robins as his last stop. That move was one of six while his two children were in school, including two stints in Europe.

“The toughest part about that is moving in the middle of the school year,” he said, adding that Houston County schools helped ease the transition. “They did not skip a beat.”

Wilson’s daughter, Sonya Jenkins, transferred mid-year to the ninth grade at Rumble Junior High School, and his son, Duane Wilson, was a junior at Warner Robins High. School administrators welcomed the parents’ involvement from the beginning, he said, as Wilson and his wife made an effort to meet with principals early on.

“One of the things is that, as parents, we have always been involved with the school system,” he said. “The school’s principals were very receptive to us coming to the school.”

The district also made and continues to make efforts to use a student’s records and even to test incoming students to make sure they are in the right classes. For Wilson, that ensured that his daughter got into advanced classes, and she later graduated with honors and went on to get a degree from Auburn University.

“It is very important, and the reason it’s important, these children, these families are coming from different environments,” Wilson said of efforts to get students in the right classes.

The county also tries to get parents involved. Wilson leads a Right Start briefing with military parents who are new to the community each month.

“I talk with them and invite them to come be a part of the process,” he said.

Warner Robins High still gets its fair share of military families because the base is part of the school’s zone, guidance counselor Julie Mathis said.

In her 10th year at Warner Robins High, Mathis said students from military families aren’t necessarily treated differently than other new students.

“We don’t really differentiate for the military students ... but we have a student that walks around and shows them where their classes are,” she said.

In addition, the school will begin orientation home room groups for new students next school year.

“They can kind of form a bond with one another,” she said.

Mathis did confirm that the different education levels of incoming military students can present challenges. One Warner Robins High senior transferred from California and did not meet requirements for graduation in Houston County.

Because of an interstate compact aimed at helping students from military families, though, that student was allowed to take classes at Warner Robins that would count toward a diploma earned in California. While Mathis hasn’t seen many students that required such an arrangement, that may change in the future.

“I can envision more and more as the years go by, but it just means I need to keep in contact with the counselor from the other school,” she said, noting that any extra work wasn’t an inconvenience. “Not when you keep in mind what it will do for the child.”

To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331.