News: Soldiers volunteer, mentor children
Story by Sgt. Jonathan Thibault
PUEBLO, Colo. - A day in the sun, carnival games and giant smiles on the faces of elementary school students were the rewards for the 41 soldiers who volunteered to help mentor children and run a carnival at Prairie Heights Elementary School in Pueblo, May 17.
Soldiers from Company B, 404th Aviation Support Battalion, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, volunteered to help the faculty run the game booths during the school carnival, which served as the latest event supported by the battalion as part of its community outreach program.
“Soldiers managed games such as the shoe rack ring toss, balloon darts, potato sack race and many more,” said Staff Sgt. David A. Brocato, maintenance section sergeant, Company B, 404th ASB. “The most popular game was the dunk tank. The students loved dunking the soldiers.”
Spc. Captoria Pointer, avionic and survivability equipment repairer, Company B, 404th ASB, selected the event for the battalion’s community outreach program.
“After going through Army Community Service, we found an adopt-a-school program,” said Pointer. “We found Prairie Heights, and after a couple of visits, I wanted to come every time. The command sends about 13 soldiers to the school to help out every week.”
The battalion has filled many roles at Prairie Heights Elementary School.
“We have come every Wednesday, since January,” said Brocato. “We help coach students in different subjects, mentoring and essentially acting as teacher’s aides. We do whatever the teacher needs us to do.”
The school faculty appreciates the versatility and roles taken on by the 404th ASB Soldiers.
“The soldiers mainly help the students during literacy time,” said Grant Schmidt, principal. “I have told the teachers to employ the Soldiers as they need them. The soldiers have been a tremendous help with various activities, such as computer lab, science lab and physical education.”
The students look forward to the visits, which have improved morale among the students, Schmidt said.
“The students are extremely responsive to the soldiers,” said Schmidt. “Students enjoy wearing the soldiers’ hats, eating lunch with them and playing with them during recess. This also helps students with parents who are deployed military members. It gives them a sense of normalcy to have soldiers around.”
The soldiers’ bonds with the students have grown since the program first started.
“The students like the soldiers so much, they know us by name,” said Pointer. “They participate more in class because we are actively participating, too.”
CAB soldiers believe this is important for the students and a great experience for themselves.
“During the time we have been here, we got to show the students a little about what we do as soldiers and expose them to the military,” said Brocato. ”I think it is great that we, as soldiers, get to go out in the community and make a valuable impact. We are proud to be a part of this excellent program.”
The soldiers are allowed to show a different side of themselves when volunteering at the school.
“We show the students and their parents that we are not just fighters for our country, but we can also be mentors, and give back to the community,” said Pointer.
Although the school year is at its end, the principal and soldiers hope they can keep volunteering next school year.
“We absolutely want and hope the soldiers return next year,” said Schmidt. “I have been a principal at PHES for a year, and have seen students’ school spirit jump dramatically since the soldiers arrived. The students’ motivation especially escalates on Wednesdays, because they know the soldiers will be here. We would definitely like the soldiers to return.”