Military deployment is hard on the entire family, but it's the children who hurt the most when a parent is sent, sometimes unexpectedly, to serve our country. Children from military families at Matt Arthur Elementary in Kathleen, now have a way to try and make sense of deployment.
5th grader Ashtyn Reas's dad has been deployed before, and now he's about to do it all over again.
"I always get upset when I find out he's leaving," says Ashtyn. "He was like whispering to a friend while we were at the store, and I was like 'What?!' and he was like 'Nothing.' But, he's going to be leaving soon."
That's why she's grateful for programs like the Support Group for Children with Deployed Parents, where children can express how they're feeling about mom or dad's deployment, in a supportive environment.
"When I come in here I feel so good," says Ashtyn.
The program is offered at schools with at least 40% active duty military children. Robins Air Force Base liaison officer Lesley Darley says she hopes to expand the program to schools around the area.
"One of the biggest things we've really noticed is that when the children get together in a group and they start talking about how their parents are all over the world--that they know there's friends in their class, friends they're running into in the hall that are going through the same situation that they are," says Darley.
Students can paint pictures, write letters, and express their love for their family member overseas, something counselors think is the healthiest way to overcome separation sadness.
"It's hard for us as educators to just ask children to sit there and do their reading, writing and math when their heart's hurting and their parents' are away," says Laura Melnick, guidance counselor at Matt Arthur Elementary. "It's easier for adults to move on with your life and kind of departmentalize your feelings, whereas children really need to be able to talk with someone about how they're feeling."
The goal now is to serve every military child in Houston County, so that children like Ashtyn, can concentrate in school, and look forward to the day they're reunited with their loved one.
"When he gets here me and my brother we just run out there and we just jump on him and give him hugs," says an excited Ashtyn.
The support group initiative was recently named a best practice by Headquarters Air Force Base, and was awarded $1000 from Air Force Major Command so it could be implemented in schools this year.