In his recent guest post, Sgt. Gardner detailed his unit’s involvement with a transition class at Dublin High School. Twice a week for the past couple of months, that class has been making the short trip over to Camp Parks to work with the unit. We were fortunate enough to accompany Ms. Bree Lemoine’s class to the base to observe the students and soldiers in action!
Before We Begin, a Bit of Background
Transition classes are for students receiving special education who are 18-22-years-old and are usually housed on the same high school campus the students attended. Just as the name says, the transition classes help ease the students into adulthood and becoming productive members of their communities. With the guidance of their teachers and aides, the students learn a variety of life and social skills – including money management and cooking – and spend time working in the community. In the case of Bree Lemoine’s class at Dublin High, the students usually spend the first half of the day in the classroom before heading to their jobs at the cafeteria, a clothing store or a local nursery. Thanks to the involvement of the soldiers at Camp Parks, Ms. Lemoine’s class is picking up new skill sets.
The caravan of DHS students, their teachers and Special Olympics staffers passed through the secure gates of Camp Parks, our names on the list like we were part of the presidential motorcade. Before we made our way to our destination, we were greeted with signs bearing army keywords, one of which was respect. How fitting, my colleagues and I thought. A large part of having Special Olympics in the schools deals with bringing respect for all people, and here it was on this army base, front and center.
As we climbed out of the cars, there was already an air of excitement. Many of the transition students had army lanyards with dog tags around their necks and others were even wearing shirts with Army stamped on the front. You could just tell they had meticulously picked their outfit knowing that today was Tuesday and that meant a trip to Camp Parks. We were greeted by a pair of friendly officers, who guided us to a work room.
A Natural Fit
The students found chairs and waited for their instructor. The instantaneous smiles were contagious in the room once Sgt. Gardner entered. He had been away for a couple of weeks and the students were excited to have him back. Together they recalled the lessons and work accomplished in previous visits, after which Sgt. Gardner opened an Adobe movie-making program and not only taught the students the nuts and bolts of the program but also walked them through the creative aspects.
Gardner was so outgoing, positive and engaging that the rapport was just perfection — the students were all instantly comfortable. Not only is the social interaction priceless but he was also teaching the students valuable lessons. Enabling the students to do the work, Sgt. Gardner used words like collaborative effort and teamwork while he instructed the students that, “This is your project so it’s important to do your best.” He quizzed the students on material covered and made sure to involve everyone, even the quiet ones.
We’ve had the opportunity to observe the officers with the students on multiple occasions, and each time it’s been wonderful. All of the soldiers are wonderfully encouraging – it’s been a real treat to see these friendships blossom!
Work That Matters
In their time at Camp Parks, the students have accomplished a variety of tasks — learning how to put together a video, inventorying medical bags, helping organize the storage unit and even accompanying the soldiers on an obstacle course. Sgt. Gardner is just one of many soldiers who have opened their base and hearts up to the students. The transition students have given the soldiers rave reviews:
“I like being here with the soldiers and dogs.”
“I like doing stuff – helping them. It’s important to make a difference. They’re our second family.”
We could tell the students weren’t the only ones who were affected. In the hallway, there was a huge bulletin board decorated with thank yous from the transition class.
Thank you to the soldiers at Camp Parks for welcoming us onto base and for doing such a great job with the DHS students!