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Kids with deployed parents learn they’re not alone

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Earlier this year, a group of Creekside Elementary School students were given boxes to fill with reminders of their parents, deployed throughout the world.

The goal of the boxes is to help the students, whose parents are away from home serving in the military, focus in school. Students can fill the boxes with reminders of conversations they want to have with their parents when they talk to them on the phone or see them on the computer. They also can fill the boxes with items that remind them of their parents — a father’s karate black belt, for instance — and keep them at school to feel closer to their relative.

This was the first year Creekside had enough children whose parents had been deployed to start a support program for the students. Counselor Samantha Vidal wanted to make sure the students realize they aren’t the only ones with parents serving overseas and that they had support.

“I feel that we’ll also just show them that it’s hard having your parent away, but as a community we’re really grateful for the students’ sacrifice and the family’s sacrifice of having that military member away from home,” Vidal said.

Right now, two Indiana National Guard units in or near Johnson County are deployed: a medical unit out of Shelbyville, with 25 members, and an air traffic control unit out of Johnson County, with 45 members, National Guard state family program director Maj. Lisa Kopczynski said. The first unit should return in June, and the second, which left in December, will be gone until the end of the year.

About the program

Name: Military Kids In-School Support

What it does: Works with schools in Indiana to provide support and counseling for groups of students whose parents are deployed

When they meet: One hour a week for five weeks

Cost: None

School counselors want to know if students have parents who are deployed and will be away from home for months or longer because the sadness or anxiety the youngsters can feel may stop them from focusing on school. Younger students especially may feel as though they’re the only kids dealing with a parent who’s away, the counselors said.

At Whiteland Elementary School, counselor Kristy Boone doesn’t have enough students whose parents are deployed on active duty to create a group specifically for them. Instead, she shows the students how to make the boxes they can use to store reminders of their parents and works with their families to see if there are any other resources they need during the deployment.

“We just really kind of support them in their feelings, and keeping things close to them makes them feel like (their parents) are there,” Boone said.

Vidal has wanted to organize a support group specifically for students whose parents were deployed on active duty, though most years she didn’t have enough students. But this school year about 10 Creekside students have a parent serving away from home.

The National Guard has a free, five-week-long program called Military Kids In School Support. Earlier this year, the program worked with the Creekside students to create communication boxes and to show the students they aren’t alone.

“Military kids feel really isolated. They feel they’re the only person they know going through this experience,” Indiana National Guard child and youth program contractor Anne Tedore said.

The goal by the end of the five weeks was for the students to know that they’re not alone, and that there are others in their school and in Franklin who know how they feel and can support them, Tedore and Vidal said.

“They’re usually pretty surprised that they’re not the only ones going through it,” Vidal said.

Vidal will continue to meet with the students who were a part of the military support group throughout the year. April is also the month of the military child, Vidal said, and Creekside is planning additional programs to show the students how appreciative the school is of the sacrifice their family is making.

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