Commander, Submarine Group Two

Tamar Stearns works with her first-grade students at Dr. Charles
G. Barnum Elementary School during class in Groton, Conn., near
Submarine Base New London, Nov. 18, 2011. School officials have
developed a strong support program for military children, who make
up 90 percent of the student body. DOD photo by Army Sgt.
1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.  

Children Enjoy School's Critical Support Structure

GROTON, Conn., Nov. 22, 2011 – Transition can present a multitude of challenges to service members as they prepare to move from one location to another -- sometimes from country to country. Children uprooted from the home, school and friends they’ve known must adapt quickly to a whole new set of circumstances.

The nearly 400 children of Dr. Charles G. Barnum Elementary School here face similar issues, but have a distinct advantage thanks to the faculty and other local organizations.

Although Charles Barnum is not a Defense Department school, nearly 90 percent of its student population consists of military children with parents stationed at Submarine Base New London or with smaller units of other services in the area.

With that knowledge in mind, the faculty of Charles Barnum has put together a robust support system to help military children quickly integrate into academic life at the school.

“Our teachers are amazing, in that they recognize our children come and go,” said Catherine Hanson, the community coordinator for the school. “As soon as a child arrives, they are part of the family here at Charles Barnum immediately. I have to say the staff does a great job welcoming these military children.”

Military children face a lot of obstacles, Hanson noted.

“They are uprooted often in their lives, and their education is, therefore, uprooted,” she said. “When you go state to state, different states have different curriculums, so when they bounce around these schools, they have to quickly adjust to the standards which they need to meet. This school does an excellent job acclimating these students, so I’m proud of the staff.”

The school’s principal, Valerie Nelson, agreed with Hanson’s perspective. “I think the teachers are really aware,” she said. “They are attuned to the students’ needs.”

One of the methods for assisting in this transition is through the use of school liaisons, such as Miranda Chapman.

“Working with Charles Barnum has been great,” Chapman said. “They are very receptive. They are a school that really did a lot working with our military children to begin with, and it’s just enhanced.”

A local command partners with the school and provides volunteer support, she noted, and another innovative method involves use of a group setting with other children.

“We do a deployment club [in which] the children meet during recess every other week to get together to talk about deployment and how it affects them,” Chapman said. “Being in this submarine community, pretty much deployment is the way of life here.”

Karen Bryer, an assistant principal at Charles Barnum who has taught for 20 years in Groton, said there is a noticeable atmosphere of welcoming in the school.

“One of the things I’ve noticed coming here is there is no ‘new-kid’ feel,” she said. “Kids are coming and going all the time, and that transitioning into a new school can be very emotional for children and really deter from their learning.

“They’ve done a lot of different strategies … that eliminate that whole feeling for kids,” she continued. “When they show up, they don’t feel like a new kid.”

Bryer credits the principal with the school’s successful approach, which has helped its students attain 100 percent efficiency in math from Grades 3 through 5 the past two years.

“[Nelson] has perfected what needs to be done to eliminate that new kid feeling because she’s been here consistently, improving the procedures and all the other elements of the program that make the academic program work,” Bryer said.

Alexandrea Martino, a fifth-grade teacher with a 21-student class, shared some of the encouragement she gives to her students.

“We tell them, ‘Try to do your personal best, and don’t settle for anything less,’ she said. “It sounds like its cliché, but we stand by that.”