News: 'Wranglers' partner with Polk Panthers
Story by Staff Sgt. Casey McGeorge
EL PASO, Texas - Soldiers from the 15th Sustainment Brigade reached out and spent the day with children Wednesday at Polk Elementary.
The soldiers were taking part in the Fort Bliss Partnerships in Education Program. The program provides an ongoing supplemental resource program for 27 schools in El Paso to promote educational excellence and support programs in preparation for lifelong learning. It involves thousands of soldiers, civilian employees, and their families in school activities designed to improve educational achievement and keep students in school and on track.
Micaela Varela, the school’s principal, has seen this partnership grow over the last seven years she has been at the school. This is her third year as the principal; she spent the previous four as the assistant principal.
“Our current partnership with the 15th SB is the strongest since I have been here,” said Varela. “Since this is a military town, it is important for the kids to interact with the service members. It’s great to see the volunteer presence here at the school.”
The soldiers served a Thanksgiving meal to the students and parents, as well as participated in physical education class with third and fifth graders. Soldiers then went class to class to introduce themselves to some of the students and answer questions.
“This is a new and awesome experience,” said Staff Sgt. Juan Valdez, the land and ammunition manager for the 15th Special Troops Battalion. “Doing things like this really gets me excited. I can definitely see myself doing this more as the opportunities arise.”
Valdez was not the only soldier who enjoyed himself that day. Spc. Jason Rogers, a truck driver with the 47th Transportation Company had a blast as well.
“This was really cool,” said Rogers. “It’s really educational for both the kids and the parents. It gives them both the opportunity to ask questions that they don’t know about the military.”
Parents also seemed to enjoy seeing soldiers in uniform interacting with the children. Michelle Black, who teaches at nearby Franklin High School, has two sons at Polk. One is in kindergarten, the other is in third grade.
“It really is great to see the kids interact with the military on a personal level,” said Black. “It makes them seem like real people to the children.”
Black saw the activities between the 15th SB and Polk the year before as well. The soldiers participated in the schools monthly wellness walks, career day and university spirit day. Soldiers were also special guests for Memorial and Veteran’s Day.
“It is great involvement with the children,” said Black. “It starts their mind asking questions. When they come home from school, they want to talk about all that they saw and did that day.”
The children saw a lot that day. While participating in P.E. class with the children, the soldiers took up a friendly game of kickball, danced and tried out some calisthenic exercises. One of the children, fifth-grader Clayton Godwin even challenged the soldiers to a push-up contest.
Godwin performed 54 consecutive pushups, without stopping, in less than a minute. No soldier took him up on the challenge. Godwin was carried victoriously away by his classmates.
Once back in the classrooms, soldiers spoke with kindergartners answering questions about their military experiences. While many tiny eyes looked up at the soldiers and small hands darted up to ask questions, the soldiers seemed to enjoy the experiences more than the class.
The partnership between the unit and the school is very important, said Varela. The school has some military children with parents that are currently deployed. Seeing someone else in uniform every now and then helps the children out.
“We are a very tight knit community here at Polk,” said Varela. “We take care of each other when someone in our extended family is gone.”
While the school is on the west side of El Paso, it is starting to see more and more military families because of the expansion to Fort Bliss, said Varela.
“This is just the start of what we would like to do throughout the year,” she continued. “We have a whole list of activities that the faculty, staff and students would love to see the soldiers participate in.”