Schools play expanded role when parents are deployed
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — It happens every school year on Navy bases throughout the Pacific: Ships deploy to far-flung hot spots, leaving some students without a parent and teachers with added responsibility.
For the past two years at Yokosuka, the deployments have been anything but routine, placing the USS Kitty Hawk and its escorts in the center of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But when the Kitty Hawk was dispatched to the Persian Gulf in January, officials at Kinnick High School were ready, offering everything from expanded counseling hours to a rumor control room for war news and “respite nights” for spouses who suddenly found themselves single parents.
It was a plan refined over years of learning from ship deployments, said principal Tari Wright.
As a new twist, the school erected billboards with the names of students who have a loved one on a deployed ship.
“It was completely voluntary if they wanted their name listed, and we thought it’d be a good idea not just to recognize the students, but to get some of them together,” said Denise Linde, a Kinnick special education teacher and member of the school’s crisis intervention team.
“Maybe they didn’t know some of the other kids whose parents were on the same ship, so this helped them realize that there were other students in their situation.”
Students produced videotaped skits on themes such as loneliness and dealing with stress; the skits were shown on the school’s morning video announcements. A community service group, Band Aids, organized a respite night that allowed parents to drop off their younger children for some free day care.
Of course, these are teenagers — not exactly famous for opening up emotionally to adults, especially authority figures at school. So most of the interaction took place in class.
“I think you had a lot more discussion in the classrooms than with the counselors,” said Heather Rimstidt, the school psychologist for Kinnick High School and Yokosuka Middle School.
“It was done more informally during class time, but the teachers were prepared. The crisis intervention team met with all of the teachers beforehand and discussed what to expect and how to handle situations.”
Most important, Rimstidt said, was addressing student safety and discussion about news coverage of current events.
“Most of what the kids saw was from TV news, so we wanted to emphasize how not to get overwhelmed by what they saw,” Rimstidt said.
To that end, the school established a rumor control center in one classroom. Students were encouraged to visit the room to get accurate news and to dispel any rumors about Yokosuka-based ships in particular.
“I think if there would have been issues for ships during the war, I might have been flooded with requests for information,” said Bill Schofield, a Kinnick teacher whose room served as the rumor control center.
“But given the campaign being all on the ground,” there weren’t that many requests, he said.
Schofield had an open line to the base commander, Capt. Michael Siefert, to tackle any persistent rumors about deployed ships.