Barksdale/Bossier Connection is worthwhile group effort

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Local Barksdale, Bossier Chamber of Commerce and MCEC officials accepted a national award last week for their partnership to transition incoming military students.

Bossier High senior Steven Sheerin knows what it’s like to be the new kid at school.

“It’s tough. I never really had friends when I first came here,” he recalled. “I had no one to tell me about the town or what’s here or even what to expect.”

Sheerin, a military dependent, shares this experience with a unique population of students in the Bossier Parish school system. Military children transfer into the district before or during the school year often feeling uncertain, stressed and anxious about the transition ahead.

To ease the process, Georgette Price joined the Bossier School System in 2012, giving a voice to the children and assisting families as they navigate through the process of beginning a new life in a new community. The Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) and Bossier Parish School Board, partnered with the sponsorship of the Bossier Chamber of Commerce, brought Price in to serve as the Military Student Transition Consultant for new military students, who are the relatives of servicemen and women.

Bossier Schools and the business community made a commitment long ago to “Keep the Promise” by supporting military personnel and their families. The Barksdale/Bossier Connection and its impact on the community have certainly not gone unnoticed.

The Barksdale/Bossier Connection was recently chosen by the Military Child Education Coalition as the 2014 recipient of the Pete Taylor Partnership of Excellence Award in the category of Exemplary Partnerships. This nationally coveted award recognizes partnerships formed between military installations and school districts around the world that serve military-connected children.

Partners in the Barksdale/Bossier Connection include Barksdale Air Force Base, the Bossier Parish school system, Barksdale Forward, Bossier Chamber of Commerce, Cyber Innovation Center, Greater Economic Development Foundation and the Military Affairs Council.

Several community initiatives factored in to Bossier receiving this national award, including the Helping Hearts community service projects and the Student 2 Student interactive group at Bossier Schools.

The MCEC Student 2 Student (S2S) program trains civilian and military-connected high school students to establish and sustain peer-based programs in their schools to support mobile children as they transition to and from the school. Joanna Copes, 11th and 12th grade counselor at Bossier High, said introducing the program to their school last year has been a blessing and an overall success for the entire school.

“It has given us really good insight into some of the terms and things military families hear about moving and those are the things that give us an idea of where they are coming from,” she said. “It also explains the challenges those families face when they move from place to place. Another thing we try very hard to do is get information from their other schools quickly so the students have what they need and can get right on into class.”

The student run program has grown each year, Copes said, but it’s not just benefiting the military students. Bossier High senior Reondrick Owens said S2S is exactly what their school needed to break down the walls and has made a big impact on all students.

One of those ways is by getting students to help each other and to work together as a team.

“I like to help,” Owens said. “Even if I don’t know you, I will talk to you. I’m just a friendly person and that’s what new students need when they come to a new school.”

Senior Tyre Venious agreed, “It’s up to us to make a change and to be role models for other students. We’re not just a school. We’re a family at Bossier High.”

Owens said his goal as president of S2S is to get all students, new and current, more involved in school activities and supporting each other throughout the school year, which he hopes will bring out a new experience to what Bossier High really has to offer.

“I want to get more students active in the school and continue building on the Bearkat legacy,” Owens added.

The business community and local higher education programs are thriving from the school district’s success as well. Melody Rider, Virginia College – Shreveport/Bossier City Campus President, said they support MCEC’s vision and goals. The college not only sponsors events, but are actively raising money to promote future student success.

“At Virginia College, we are dedicated to giving back our community,” Rider said. “Military kids go through a lot during their transitions. There sacrifice is also great. Changing high schools is very difficult and our community needs to support these children in their transition. We need to ensure these students retain and move on to college for the betterment of our community.”

Bossier Schools Superintendent D.C. Machen said receiving the Pete Taylor Partnership of Excellence Award for Exemplary Partnerships “directly reflects the power of this partnership” and “what is attainable when everyone works toward the same goal.”

“The ultimate reward is the positive effect the Barksdale/Bossier Connection has on those that matter most; the children entrusted in our care,” Machen said. “We will continue our pledge to ‘Keep the Promise’ to our military families in an effort to make a positive impact in their lives and the Bossier community.”

Also recognized last week was Fort Polk Progress, the Vernon Parish School District, Fort Polk and other partners for the group’s Education Initiative, which was awarded the 2014 Pete Taylor Partnership of Excellence Award in the category of Outstanding Partnerships. Two state partnerships winning these coveted national awards from MCEC is significant, underscoring the value Northwest and Central Louisiana place on the military and the strong support our communities provide to military-connected families.

The Pete Taylor Partnership of Excellence Award recognizes the work of former MCEC Chairman Lieutenant General (Ret.) Pete Taylor in assisting the highly mobile military child. The award is designed to foster the sharing of lessons learned and to recognize the long-held belief of General Taylor that “goodness starts at the local level.”

Founded in 1998, the Military Child Education Coalition® (MCEC®) is a 501(c)(3) global, nonprofit leadership and advocacy organization focused on ensuring quality educational opportunities for America’s two million military-connected children affected by mobility, family separation, and transition. For more information, visit www.MilitaryChild.org.