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VICENZA, Italy — By the time they graduate, many children raised in military families have seen a good deal of the world.

“It’s not uncommon for a senior to come in and this is their fourth different high school,” said John Zaborek, a counselor at Vicenza High School.

But just because they transfer fairly frequently doesn’t mean the process is always easy. School records can vary somewhat even among Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe. Add in public schools in the States, and transferring can sometimes be messy.

An initiative from the Military Child Education Coalition may help clear up the picture.

The association’s Interactive Counseling Center — a computer system where people thousands of miles away can communicate with one another through live video feeds — has debuted in Europe at three locations.

Zaborek demonstrated the system last week during a hookup with Joanne Yamamoto, a counselor at SHAPE High School in Belgium. He could have done the same thing with a peer at Würzburg High School in Germany. The three schools are test sites for DODDS-Europe, joining more than two dozen schools in the States hooked up to the system.

The goal, according to coalition Executive Director Mary Keller, is to connect students with teachers, counselors and administrators at the schools they’re transferring to, before they’re the new kids on the block.

“So misunderstandings about school records are taken care of before families get there,” Keller said Friday in a short telephone interview. “If you’re solving problems for kids, you’ve got an instant good relationship with the family.”

There are several ways to communicate through the system. There’s a small window to one side that’s similar to postings on an Internet chat room.

There’s the ability to mark up scanned documents. All combine to simulate a meeting in the counselor’s office at the new school. With some planning, others can be brought in. So a student who plays basketball can meet the coach — and even see a few plays drawn up on the screen. A trombone player could essentially audition for a spot in the school’s band. Or a foreign language student could display enough knowledge to qualify for an advanced class.

“If you know the kid has a certain interest, you can set them up with a sponsor,” Yamamoto said.

Of course, the system works only if both schools involved have units installed.

DODDS-Europe is looking at the three schools as pilots, said spokesman Frank O’Gara. Because each unit carries a price tag at around $5,000, it’s unlikely that the system could afford to put a unit in every school by the beginning of the next school year.

But Keller said that by then the network will be larger. She said several schools — mostly in the States — are adding on each week. Three schools in the Pacific soon will be included.

Both Zaborek and Yamamto said that more is better.

“As people join the system, that opens up that many more opportunities to use it,” she said.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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