Fort Benning youth education director Ms. Tawanna Brown said she was excited about the Partners In Education kickoff Friday at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.
“It’s our opportunity for the partners and the schools to come together, listen and attend different workshops, and then work on (our) game plan for the upcoming year,” she said. “We look at what we consider best practices and how we can take those practices from another school partnership and enhance our own partnership.”
Partners In Education, currently comprising more than 200 partnerships, is a collaborative effort between schools and community organizations such as business, military units, churches and charities. The partners support each other throughout the school year with events, donations and personal connections.
For partnerships between Fort Benning units and schools, “human capitol” is the key to success, Ms. Brown said.
“We exceed and excel in our partnerships by that human investment — by the tutoring programs, by the Leadership Academy, by the physical fitness training programs or whatever we come up with. We institute those things within the partnership,” she said.
1LT Sam Lee, who helps coordinate PIE activities with McBride Elementary School and the 192nd Infantry Brigade, said the partnership is important to the unit.
“It’s important for us to be a part of that community,” he said. “I know it works for the Soldiers and the drill sergeants. And also for the kids, they really enjoy their partners or mentors coming in and spending time with them. It can be something small like reading a book or doing crafts with them, building gingerbread houses during the holiday season. They love that. For both sides, it’s a win-win.”
Through the Leadership Academy, where he teaches the Army values to students, the Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander said he feels like he’s making a positive impact on their lives.
“The Army values are not just applicable for Soldiers; they’re the baseline principles nobody should be without. We’re almost training them to be a little more leadership-minded,” he said. “It’s actually really rewarding for me. I enjoy spending time with the students. They’re very bright, very receptive, and they’ve impressed me on a number of occasions.”
McBride Elementary contributes to their partners through a variety of programs, such as Operation Christmas Cheer, where the school choir sings to Soldiers.
Reciprocal giving is important to Wilson Elementary School, said principal Dr. Renée Mallory, Ph.D.
The school is partnered with three units: Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 197th Infantry Brigade, the 199th Infantry Brigade and 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment. By the end of the month a fourth partner — the nonprofit Embracing Military Families — will be added to the list.
Dr. Mallory said the school support the partners by sending teachers to attend promotions and changes of command and giving student artwork and handmade birthday cards to Soldiers.
In turn, the partners support the school with “job skill” broadcasts, career day, field day, the Breakfast Buddies program and community service projects like Help the Hooch, she said.
“It’s the whole ball of wax. It’s not just mentoring and it’s not just providing support in the classroom — it’s supporting the whole child,” she said. “It’s a lot of give and take. We’re wanting to give as much as we take. (And) it works; it absolutely works.”
The diverse nature of PIE activities means it’s not always classroom events that bring partners and students together. 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, does PT sessions with their students at Diamond Elementary School.
“We’ll actually set up a course and go through it with them and make it as strenuous as we can for their level, so they understand what it does for them,” said SFC David Rowe, rear detachment first sergeant. “We talk (about) health, how important it is for them to be healthy and exercise.”
For the many students who don’t have parents in the military, SFC Rowe said the unit tries to “bring the Army to them” or organize field trips to the National Infantry Museum or on post.
“The community does so much for the Army here in Columbus,” he said. “They support us so much. This is the least that we can do.”
Having Soldiers in the school doesn’t slow down third-grade teacher Michelle Ossa; in fact, it helps her, she said.
Partners with the 203rd Brigade Support Battalion motivate the children to excel and support the school’s academic and community goals, the Loyd Elementary School teacher said.
“More than anything, they are always there for the kids, and the kids love talking to them,” she said.