Monday is the first day of school in Hillsborough County and teachers are preparing for the new year. For teachers at Tinker K-8 on MacDill Air Force Base, that includes learning about military culture at an orientation program the base hosted Thursday.
Many teachers at the public grade school have no background in the military, so MacDill officials started this program last year to give staff a sense of what goes on at the base and help them understand their students’ lifestyles.
Teachers learned about resources available to help students who are struggling while their parents are deployed or because they recently relocated. Those resources include the Military and Family Readiness Center and the Military and Family Life Counseling Program.
They also heard from a military mother, Air Force Technical Sergeant Sabrina Siegele, who recently returned from deployment.
She explained to the teachers that she is “mil-to-mil,” meaning she is part of a military couple. Her husband works for U.S. Special Operations Command, which is based at MacDill. She and her husband have served in the military for more than a decade.
Siegele has an 11-year-old daughter with special needs, and she said it can be hectic with one parent often gone.
“It’s a lot, and so the child feels it, they know your tensions are high, so their tensions are high,” she said.
Siegele said she couldn’t have gotten through her deployment without her husband’s amazing parenting skills and said the two rely on each other to take care of their daughter, who she said handles military life really well, while the other is away.
Still, she said they have different styles of communicating and said parents and teachers need to work together to understand each other’s needs.
“Personally, I'm an over-communicator so I need more information, and I will be there (at school) when you need me,” she said. “With my husband, totally opposite personality, right, so you have to actually reach out to him, pull him in and have him do that."
Col. Stephen Snelson, Commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing at MacDill said it’s important for teachers to be sensitive to students whose parents are deployed, but to also remember many other kids have parents who remain on the base but work long hours and are under a great deal of stress.
“What makes the military so incredible is our diversity,” Col. Snelson said. “We are this melting pot of stone-cold warriors. So with that melting pot so too are their kids, and you will see kids that are coming from really challenging personal circumstances, challenging socioeconomic backgrounds, and you’ll have kids whose parents may have started a little bit later and there are some general officers who live on this base and whose kids go to Tinker.”
Teachers learned some other important military terms like “PCS,” or Permanent Change of Station. Service members and their families typically have to move every couple of years, but ultimately when duty calls, people can leave at any time.
“You’re not going to have one or two new kids, you’re probably going to have half of your class be new kids,” said Snelson. “With that comes the need of occasionally some special care, but I will caveat that with, you are going to get some of the most resilient kids you will ever see.”
Tinker Principal Rachel Walters said last year the school finished with about 650 students, but saw more than 750 come and go throughout the year.
"So we definitely have systems in place, we have student ambassadors so anytime a new student comes on board, they are greeted and the teachers know what to do,” she said.
Walters said the school also hosts ceremonies for departing students to make them feel appreciated as they transition elsewhere.