Deployment fears: Northern Shores gives children a place to air concerns

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 17, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Seven-year-old Chaz Coffey worries that his father, deployed in the Persian Gulf, could be shot.

Samal Bautista, also 7, is a little concerned about Mom and Dad, both in the U.S. Navy, being &uot;bossed around&uot; by people who don’t know them.


Email newsletter signup

Samantha Coontz believes she needs to watch the news so she will know when the &uot;people in Iraq start throwing chemicals at us.&uot;

That’s just a handful of concerns raised last week by four second-graders participating in a deployment counseling group led by Northern Shores Elementary School guidance counselor Rita Schellenberg. Tossing about a stuffed beanbag animal and a Rugrats’ coloring book, she prompted the children to reveal their worries and questions about their parents’ deployments and the looming war with Iraq.

Northern Shores has more students from military families than any other school in Suffolk. Approximately 40 percent – that is, 283 students – come from military families, Schellenberg said. Thus far, the parents of 80 students have been deployed.

Using the coloring book, the four youngsters shared answers to several thought-provoking questions: &uot;What does your Mommy or Daddy do on the ship?&uot; &uot;What is your biggest fear while your parent is away?&uot; &uot;Do you watch the television news alone?&uot;

&uot;I get to be safe because my parents are protecting me and the country,&uot; Bautista said.

Tayler Morgan, whose father is out to sea, was one of several kids who told Bautista that all people have bosses.

&uot;Just like the President. He bosses people around too,&uot; she said. &uot;Your Mom and Dad are your bosses. My big brother bosses me around too.&uot;

Samal agreed. &uot;My big brother loves to tell me what to do.&uot;

Meanwhile, Tayler said her biggest fear was that &uot;my Dad will get fired and he won’t be able to protect the world.&uot;

Meanwhile, Schellenberg took every opportunity to remind the youngsters to talk to their families.

&uot;Communicate, communicate, communicate. Don’t be afraid to ask questions,&uot; she said.

&uot;Your daddies have been trained to protect themselves. Keep this thought and remember they are trained and ready to go.

&uot;Your family is working to keep you safe,&uot; she said. &uot;Focus on the fact that your family is preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

She urged the youngsters to only watch the television news with an adult. &uot;That way, you can ask questions if you don’t understand something.&uot;

Until now, Northern Shores has offered the deployment groups on an as-needed basis. But with the impending approach of a showdown with Saddam Hussein, the school is taking a more active approach and offering it more frequently, Schellenberg said.

So far, teachers have seen few behavioral or academic changes in among children in their classrooms.

&uot;A lot of issues can revolve around moms and dads being gone,&uot; she said, and recommended that people be open with children about happenings in the world.

&uot;Parents often don’t talk openly in their homes. That’s fine if the kids aren’t developmentally ready. But kids can feel when something is going on in a house. Then their imaginations go wild, and they begin talking to one another.&uot;

Students can also use the school’s computers to e-mail their deployed parents during the middle of the day.

&uot;Anytime a child is feeling a little sad or lonely, they can e-mail his parent that is on deployment,&uot; said Schellenberg. &uot;E-mail is a great way to maintain emotional health during a deployment.&uot;

Darlene Parham, a fourth-grade teacher and military wife, said her three children look forward to receiving their own &uot;secret e-mail&uot; whenever her husband is deployed.

&uot;It’s their private contact with Dad,&uot; Parham said. &uot;Last time he was out, he e-mailed each of my daughters at their own account. &uot;This gave each of my girls their own private time with Dad.&uot;