DOHA, Qatar — Twenty-five service members read children's books with more than 300 students from pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade, at the American School of Doha, Qatar, Feb. 23. The troops had arrived from Camp As Sayliyah, a U.S. military installation located on the outside edge of Doha.
"Community volunteering helps strengthen host nation relationships," said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. April Plante from Indianola, Miss., who contacted ASD officials to coordinate the volunteer work. She has pledged monthly volunteer support for the elementary school's academic calendar.
"Reading at the school is good for the kids, as well as the Soldiers," said Plante.
The service members departed the installation dressed in civilian clothes. After arriving, they walked through a maze of colorful corridors displaying various artistic projects and literary works. Everyone broke into five-member teams that rotated between one-on-one, classroom and library reading activities. They volunteered four hours toward sharing stories that the children selected.
"This gives me a head start for when I go home next month," said Staff Sgt. Jean Tomte from Lawton, Okla., after reading with a first-grade boy from Spain. The father is completing his second year-long deployment in the Middle East since the birth of his four-year-old daughter. "I haven't spent enough time reading to my daughter. This puts me back on track."
The student body represents more than 60 nationalities completing an American curriculum. Roughly half of the students at the accredited, college preparatory school are children of U.S. citizens employed in Qatar. Established in 1988, ASD currently teaches 1,910 students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12th.
Most kids exposed signs of coyness and curiosity as the sessions started, but temperaments changed. They quickly grew enthusiastic about exhibiting their intellect and heritage. Conversations continuously focused on lessons found in the books.
"He's pretty smart — he was reading, and I was asking questions," said Tomte, referring to a first-grade boy from Indonesia. "He told me why it's important to pay attention and behave." They had just finished reading "David Gets in Trouble" by David Shannon.
Plante first asked Don LeBlanc, ASD elementary school principle, about volunteer opportunities last month, on behalf of the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club. Army noncommissioned officers are inducted into the nonprofit organization by demonstrating exceptional performance and inherent leadership qualities, abilities characterized by Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Audie Murphy.
"Schools function better by reaching out to the community," said LeBlanc. "Anytime people show an interest in what kids are doing, it raises their performance."