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The Military Family: A classroom constant amid constant change

FORT CARSON, Colo. (KRDO) - There's an organized buzz amid the piles of boxes at Weikel Elementary, on Fort Carson.

Here, Mrs. Beth DeMatto, a second-grade teacher, cuts construction paper to precision, stapling it to the wall -- with high hopes of highlighting her students' work there.  The 21 desks and chairs -- micro in size -- are arranged in pods, with a packet of welcome materials, fresh pencils, and a tiny poem resting on top.  The poem, "A Hug for You" is perhaps the most important feeling Mrs. DeMatto wants to impart to her class.

Mrs. Beth DeMatto gears up for the school year

"I'm a huge relationship person, so just letting them know they're not alone on this first day of school.  I'm here for a hug always," she smiles.  "It's hard -- it's so transient.  Sometimes they're here for a year, sometimes they're here for three.  In very rare cases, they're here for five years."

True, this class of 21 will come in with those first-day jitters; they also come in -- likely -- having not known each other from year to year.  For many, this represents a mountain of firsts, unlike other school kids: new classmates, new teachers, new town, new home.

Fountain Fort Carson School District 8 has a preschool, four elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school on the Mountain Post.  Statistically, there is a 20 percent turnover rate district-wide, pointing to a mobile military force that brings children in tow. 

That kind of movement isn't atypical for public schools on a military installation: on average, children of military members will attend up to nine different school systems as they progress from kindergarten to 12th grade, according to the State of Colorado.

It's why all 50 states, as of 2014, adopted what's known as the Interstate Compact for Educational Opportunity for Military Children, which standardizes requirements, record-keeping, and extracurricular activities for children of active uniformed service or active duty National Guard and Reserve.

It's crucial, given the district enrolls new students as late as May in any given school year, according to Christy McGee, spokeswoman for Fountain-Fort Carson.

And even amid a dust-up of moves, some of these children might have one parent away, or deployed. 

And that's why Mrs. DeMatto wants to assure her students from day one that she can be their safe space. 

"Their parents are serving to keep us free and keep us safe while trusting us with their babies.  I want them to know it's okay to be happy or sad, to miss mom or dad -- but the time that they are here they know that they are loved."

Article Topic Follows: Military Family

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Heather Skold

Heather is the evening anchor for KRDO. Learn more about Heather here.

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