Teaching at Hill Field Elementary has some challenges that might not exist in other schools.
Ninety-nine percent of students are children of military families stationed at Hill Air Force Base, said Kathleen Dickinson, who has taught first grade there for 30 years (see accompanying story).
Because they are from military families, the children are often transient.
But because she was also a child in a military family, Dickinson has been able to relate to the circumstances the children are in.
As a child growing up, Dickinson attended nine different schools during her elementary years.
As a teacher, she might have three or four students move in or out in a year, or some years perhaps half the class moves.
When a new student arrives, she has their desk ready with their name on it to let them know they were expected “and we couldn’t wait for them to get here,” she said.
She will keep in contact through email and Skype when students leave.
As she saw in her own home, parents have a big impact on how the students transition.
“My mom always would say, ‘OK, we’re having a new adventure,’” she said.
Besides the moves, another challenge comes when the parents of some students are deployed.
“I remember what it’s like to have your dad’s bag packed by the door at all times,” she said. “We could wake up and he’d be gone and we knew all the time that that might happen.”
“Little kids at certain ages understand that and at certain ages they don’t,” she said. “You have to understand that if they’re out of sorts it might not be an easy learning day because they’re dealing with other emotions.”
Many children of military parents have to deal with divorce as well, she said.
“The students don’t have the coping mechanisms we do,” she said. “They might have a harder time focusing in school.”
Teaching has been rewarding, she said, as she has tried to go beyond “sound bites” to present information in tactile, memorable ways to her children.
She taught for three years in Idaho before taking the position at Hill Field.
“Their brains are like sponges,” she said of the children. “Every day you can see growth – every single day. And no matter what – when they walk in that door in the morning, there is a smile on every face.”
“And at the end of the day when they head out the door, they give high-fives and hugs and they’re smiling, asking what we’re doing tomorrow,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘this is the best day ever’ every day.”