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Air Force squadron mentors C.T. Walker students

A butterfly ended up being the link between an Air Force squadron and the hundreds of students at C.T. Walker Traditional Magnet School, Principal Renee Kelly said.

When kindergarten teacher Jenny Landrum asked for help setting up a butterfly garden last year, Master Sgt. Mark Lucachick, a parent at the school, stepped up.

After that initial project, he returned and brought with him 16 fellow members of the 3rd Intelligence Squadron from Fort Gordon to help weed, plant and raise the beds in the school’s vegetable garden.

From there, the group returned almost weekly to tutor, referee in physical education classes and, along with the pupils, to deliver the garden’s vegetables to residents in the Laney-Walker neighborhood.

On Monday, the partnership became official when the squadron adopted C.T. Walker in a ceremony held for all 600 students and faculty members. Lt. Col. Brad Borke said his squadron members will visit the school weekly to work with children in classrooms and provide mentors that some are missing.

Borke said his squadron can offer unique role models for the students – 40 percent of the roughly 300 service members are women, and the vast majority are 25 or younger. Borke said that what the students will give back is just as important, however.

“It helps us in uniform to see, in a very special way, what we work so hard for, which is defending this nation, and that nation is you,” Borke told the auditorium of students and faculty members. “Simply put, you help us put a face to the flag that we defend with our life.”

Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver, whose father flew B-17 bombers in World War II, said there is no better person for the children to look up to than an Air Force member.

School Superintendent Frank Roberson said the school’s namesake, Charles T. Walker, would be proud of such a partnership. Walker, a former slave, founded Tabernacle Baptist Church in 1885 and earned national attention for his passionate preachings.

“I can’t say how proud I am to be superintendent of a group of students who perform so well,” Roberson said, citing the school’s recognition this year as a 2013 National Merit School of Excellence. “The future is going to be so very, very bright for them.”

First Lt. Michael Troise, 25, said that in the past few months he has eaten lunch with the students and spoken to classes for military appreciation day. He said the unit’s goals are to teach character and to be there when a student needs someone to talk to.

“Just being around these kids, it’s really uplifting to see how excited they are and how much they want to learn,” he said. “They already have the value that we want, which is integrity. I mean, I’ve heard them argue over who is going to get to clean the table after lunch. We want to build on that.”

Kelly, the principal, said she thought the Air Force would be a good partner because it shares the same tenets and discipline the school tries to teach.

Students are required to maintain an 80 average to stay in the magnet school, which is a public school that focuses on high academics and leadership. Students also have to complete community service projects and are taught the importance of service, which the Air Force squadron will be personifying each week.

“Service doesn’t always happen in the sky or in a foreign land but right here in downtown Augusta on Wrightsboro Road,” Kelly said.

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