by Monica Mendoza
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Airman 1st Class Shelby Manuelito, 21st Force Support Squadron, finished reading a book to kindergartners at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, and hands flew into the air. The children had questions for her.
“What is your favorite thing to do?” one child asked.
“I like to play video games,” Airman Manuelito said.
There was a collective “ohhhhh,” from the group. And, just like that, Airman Manuelito was their friend. The children liked video games too, they told her.
These moments between children and Airmen are happening throughout Colorado Springs School District 11, where many Peterson family members attend school. Peterson Airmen are participating in the “Adopt A School” program, launched in January by Lisa Ballard, Peterson school liaison officer. The program brings Peterson Airmen and civilian employees into the area schools to volunteer in classrooms, special events, lunchrooms and playgrounds.
Part of the program is just letting school officials know that Peterson personnel are available to volunteer, Ms. Ballard said. Her hope is that teachers and school officials feel comfortable picking up the telephone and asking for volunteers.
“The whole purpose is to foster the relationship between Peterson Air Force Base and District 11 because we are all one community,” Ms. Ballard said.
Children who live on and around Peterson Air Force Base generally attend school in District 11, where school buses are available. However, Colorado is a “choice” state, which means parents can enroll their children in any school of their choice. Ms. Ballard is making connections in schools all over the city, she said.
“District 11 is our first focus because that is the district that serves Peterson,” Ms. Ballard said. “(District 11) is very happy that Peterson is taking more of a partnership role.”
At McAuliffe Elementary School, which is less than one mile from the base, about 50 percent of the 607 children enrolled there are military family members, school officials said. Having Airmen present in the schools is especially important to children who might have a parent deployed, said Susan Reeves, McAuliffe Parent Teacher Organization president.
“It is so nice for kids to see other people – having extra role models for them to look up to is remarkably invaluable,” she said.
More than 70 Peterson Airmen recently volunteered at the McAuliffe school fun day, which included indoor and outdoor activities.
“All the kids and teachers could talk about was how great it was,” Ms. Reeves said.
Anyone from Peterson is eligible to volunteer and coordinators have been designated in the 21st Medical Group, the 21st Operations Group and the 21st Mission Support Group. The three Peterson Air Force Base feeder schools are McAuliffe, Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy Middle School and Mitchell High School. At Swigert middle school, Airmen recently provided one-on-one mentoring for children.
All children love adult attention, said Denise Rubio-Gurnett, McAuliffe school principal. And, the volunteer opportunities at the school are endless. Even children who have military parents are excited to see Airmen in uniform in the school, she said.
“They are like movie stars in their uniforms when they come in,” said Ms. Rubio-Gurnett. “It sets them apart – not only are they volunteering in the community, they are serving their country. Talk about mentors and setting an example for young children.”
· For more information on the program, call Lisa Ballard at 556-7596.