How an Army base in Kansas kept thousands of military kids on track in school

When the 7,000 troops of the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division, a.k.a. “The Big Red One,” returned home from Germany a decade ago, they brought their wives and children with them. This influx of nearly 20,000 new residents threatened to overwhelm many of the services offered around Ft. Riley, Kansas–including the schools in northeastern Kansas.

The situation could have been a disaster. But, thanks to some good old fashioned Army ingenuity, it wasn’t.

Normally, a garrison commander has, among his other duties, the responsibility of tracking where the children of soldiers on the base go to school and setting up liaisons with the various schools. Given the size of the influx, it was feasible this garrison commander and his staff might be overwhelmed.

Fortunately, the First Division’s Commander, Major General Carter Ham, had an idea.

Ham enlisted his first sergeants to survey the troops and gather the information. Some of the data–attendance at schools on the base–was easy to collect. The challenge was collecting information about children at off-base public and private schools. However, this process made the collection process much easier and faster.

Once this information was collected and compiled, the Army shared it proactively with the public and private schools in the region.

After the information transfer, the Army reached out to the schools to see how it could assist the schools in helping the military-connected students with the transition. This included working with the teachers to track students and their progress as newcomers to see how they were doing in classes.

The program was successful on two levels. First, it was simple. Rather than recreate the wheel, Ham used the organizational structure of the division to take a Herculean task and make it much simpler.

Second, the fact that the Army was proactive helped relieve the anxiety that many of the school districts and private schools felt. It made them see the Army as an active partner in the process, as opposed to a passive bystander.

As time went on, the process became institutionalized. Teachers in the area bought into the program and the region used it as an example of why Ft. Riley should be exempted from future base cuts.

The lessons of 2006 are still with us ten years later. The College of Education at Kansas State University has integrated the lessons learned about working with the military and military-connected children into the curriculum of its teacher’s program. In addition, many of the members of the Division, now spread throughout the Army, have shared the program’s focus when they faced similar situations with their communities and their units.

There will likely be major changes in the way our military is organized in future years, leading to significant disruption in military communities as units move around the country and the world. The process first used at Ft. Riley can serve as a template to ensure that our armed forces work with our local military communities to ensure that our children are not forgotten during this challenging time.

This post originally appeared at the How is My Kid Doing blog.

Photo courtesy of Fort Riley.

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Christi Ham
Christi Ham is the chairwoman of Military Families for High Standards. She is a lifelong educator by trade and by passion. She has taught at the middle and high school levels and served administratively at the elementary and pre-school levels. Understanding the importance of good writing skills for college and career preparedness, she developed a curriculum that prioritized it in each classroom subject. She also established a developmental studies program for supporting college-bound students with learning disabilities. Christi has been a military spouse for nearly four decades. As the wife of retired four-star General Carter Ham, she used her time moving around the nation and the world to offer her expertise to solve community issues and educational challenges, serving on numerous volunteer committees, boards and advisory panels. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Christi graduated from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. She currently resides with her husband, in Arlington, Virginia.

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