NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Long work hours, a career full of moves and family separations during deployments can make life stressful on not just a service member, but their children as well.
Luckily the Nellis AFB community is aware of the struggles children may go through in these situations, and there are a number of programs and systems in place to help with the difficult circumstances.
Lomie G. Heard Elementary School, at Nellis AFB, helps their students adapt to these changes by preparing them for future life changes offering them support during tough times and helping them strengthen the necessary skills to thrive at any future location they may end up.
“We have the Kind Program here, which is all about the military child and helping them learn social skills,” said Debra Faltinoski, Lomie G. Heard Elementary School kindergarten teacher and counselor. “Everything [at this school] is focused on our military children.”
Each permanent change of station comes with the challenges of a new house, new friends and new school. This can bring a certain amount of uncertainty in a young child’s life.
“When we ask the [children] how many have been to three or more schools, it’s always amazing to see how many hands shoot up,” said Sydney Knott, president and executive director of Horses4Heroes.
Faltinoski recruited the help of Horses4Heroes in order to help children develop social skills important for easing the process of acquiring a future friend after a PCS.
“We have brought our miniature horses on the base every week, and we are teaching the [children] from kindergarten to fifth grade how to make new friends, how to not be afraid to go to new schools, and other important life and social skills,” Knott said.
“Working with and caring for horses teaches many important life skills. We believe that horses teach self-sufficiency, self-reliance, self-confidence, they boost your overall self-esteem.”
Along with the Horses4Heroes program, the school relies on its staff to support children through their challenges with all these stresses.
According to Faltinoski, once a teacher is informed of a student’s particular situation, the school’s staff has the knowledge and experience necessary to support the student.
“It’s hard to be a military child at times because of the added stresses that they go through. It’s really important that we give them every possibility to experience things on base and off base and to know why their families chose the careers and career paths that they did,” Faltinoski said. “I am a military wife and my children are military children so really for me I look at all these children as my own. They are wonderful [children] who have to endure deployments. They endure all kinds of upset in their family lives.”
Lomie Heard has deployment groups where parents can put their children together in a group with students whose parents are deployed.
“We talk about how they feel about the deployments and what they can do to pass the time, when they get sad what they can do about that, we make calendars and send gifts at Christmas time to the parents overseas,” Faltinoski said.
One of the students in currently participating in the group is third grader Megan Levin.
According to Megan, her dad recently retired from the Air Force only to take a job in California assisting the Navy. Megan and her sister are awaiting the end of the school year before they go to join their dad in California.
“My dad comes home and tells us about what he does,” Megan said. “It makes me feel happy for the other people he helps.”
According to Allison Mesina’s 3rd grade teacher, with the correct support from the school, students can be as tough as their parents when it comes to overcoming military hardships.
“Our kids are so resilient. They have these extra circumstances, they have these extra pressures and stresses from their families that they have no control over, but they still rise to the occasion, they still do their best in school, they still make good friends and work well with their peers and strive for excellence,” Mesina said. “I don’t think they get enough recognition for that.”
For more information on military child support programs please contact the airman and family readiness center at (702) 652-3327.
Editor’s note: Horses4Heroes foundation is a private organization and has no governmental status.