As the school year begins on Fort Bragg, the stresses of the military lifestyle on the Family are compounded by the demands of the new academic year. Children and parents are faced with competing demands on their time and attention.  

Perhaps the child is beginning the school year at a new installation after the parent’s permanent change of station move. A new set of faces and places can make anyone uneasy. We can add the stresses common to kids in every grade of being on time, having the right supplies, where lunch is coming from and a whole new set of expectations and tests to pass.

Emily Marsh, Department of Defense Education Activity and Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools North Carolina District superintendent, does not believe this time of year should be stressful to kids.

“We don’t see beginning school as stressful for children because school is a great place for children,” said Marsh.

Marsh is responsible for schools on Fort Bragg and Camp Lejune, N.C.  The Fort Bragg school system is comprised of 11 schools, educating more than 5,000 children in pre-kindergarten through eighth grades.

With 29 years of experience in the DoD education system and three years in her current position, Marsh realizes the important role of the parents in the child’s success at school.

“Our Families are not always “Leave it to Beaver” Families,” said Marsh.

“It takes a lot of organization on the Family’s part,” she added.

While the structure of the school day is a given, Marsh stressed the importance of the day’s events before and after school. To set the child up for success, she detailed four important ways parents can help reduce the stress of the school day.

To begin the day, the child’s stress at school can be reduced with a good breakfast.

 “This sounds very old fashioned, but we know that children do better if they have a good breakfast,” said Marsh.

In addition, parents should make sure their children get some form of exercise during the day, they have a structured time and place for homework and the day is ended with plenty of rest. To meet these goals, Marsh noted the importance of parents needing the courage to turn off the television and video games.

 “Most children handle things about as well as their parents do,” said Marsh.

Braden Keats Simmons, 9, is a 4th grader at Pope Elementary School this year. His advice to parents is simple — provide children with a preview of what is to come that year.

“Parents should at least show them a few things that they will learn in the next grade so that they will already be comfortable with it,” said Simmons

That advice is echoed by Devers Elementary School principal, Ginny Breece.

“If they know what is going to happen, everybody is better prepared,” said Breece.

DoD education standards for all grades can be found on each school’s website. Devers Elementary also hosts a curriculum night for all parents that details the entire school year and covers the expectations of teachers, students and parents.

The last several years of multiple deployments for the Soldiers on the installation have impacted life in the home. For many children in Fort Bragg schools, the “new normal” is rooted in the consistency, certainty, structure and security of the school he or she attends.  

George Small has been a counselor at various Fort Bragg schools for 18 years.  Small is now the Bowley Elementary School counselor and described the role of the school for the child living with the reality of a deployed parent.

“It provides an anchor to the student here at school knowing that if we keep the safety and security at the school consistent, then the student feels the same,” said Small.

All Fort Bragg schools offer a myriad of programs to reduce the stress of living without one of the parents at home. Regular school counselors are augmented by military Family life counselors at each school. These teams of professionals will often eat lunch with the children of deployed Soldiers. Small offers a “lunch bunch” at which he sits and eats with the children he serves.
Parents are encouraged to do the same.

Small also encourages parents to “Take 5.” He wants parents to take 5 minutes daily or weekly to open the child’s backpack and discuss the day’s or week’s events.

“Reward them for the good spelling tips that come home or anything that they have done that they (may) have gotten (like) a bright star on their paper,” added Small.

Stressors are different at each grade level. As children advance in grade, social stressors become more commonplace. For example, a 5th grader may have the new worry of who he or she is going to sit with at lunch. Grades 6 through 8 are focused heavily on life after school on Fort Bragg that will take them to one, of 13 high schools in Cumberland County.

According to Albritton Middle School principal, Patricia Schob, the parents involvement in the child’s education and efforts at stress reduction are perhaps more important in the middle school years. The more than 650 6th through 8th graders under her care are now faced with greater responsibility during the school day.

“The typical rising sixth grader is going from having one or two teachers at the most, to now you have a seven period day with a different teacher every period,” Schob said.

 It can be a tough transition for new students to make. Middle school children now have to manage a class schedule, change classes for every period, find time for bathroom breaks and maintain a locker. Daily activities are recorded in a log book that must be opened for inspection by school officials. The student is now required to be more organized and pro-active in regards to his or her education.

“We want students to invest in themselves,” added Schob.

Students are also helping other students cope with school stress at Albritton. There is a student council, a student ambassador program and a class called Advancement Via Individual Determination.

AVID students are college-minded kids who are working on organizational skills and commit to the community service component of the class. These students lead new student tours and talk to parents about the school.

Preparation for life outside of the Fort Bragg school system begins early for middle school kids. High school fairs are held on the installation every January. Officials from local high schools man information booths for parents and children to learn about what each school offers.

School administrators encourage all parents to get involved and help their children during the school year.

Perhaps the best advice about how school-aged children can cope with the various stresses of the school year comes from one of their own.

“Work your hardest and do your best (and to) keep doing your best each year no matter how hard it gets,” said Simmons.