FORT LEE, Va. - Serving as lunch buddies, reading partners, meeters and greeters and more, troops from military organizations across Fort Lee are doing their part to promote public education in local-area schools.
A “Genius Hour” and Job Shadow Day is among the latest endeavors involving Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 59th Ordnance Brigade, and its adopt-a-school partner Thomas Dale High.
Genius Hour is a future-career-interest program that gives students an opportunity to attend special classes focused on activities that interest them. During the March 25 monthly session, 1st Lt. Casey Barnett, HHC’s executive officer, and other unit representatives presented “Leadership with a Twist,” a chat session focused on what it means to serve in the military and influence others as an officer or noncom.
“I think these classes are worthwhile because they give students a different perspective and a broader learning experience,” Barnett said. “Regardless of whether they go to our leadership presentation or another teacher’s video game, dance or graphic design class, they are learning about new topics and career fields, and that can help them figure out what they would potentially like to pursue as an eventual career.”
Working with high school students, Barnett further observed, is considerably different than volunteering at an elementary school. Success requires a different mindset.
“It completely changes the dynamic of how and where you can assist,” he explained. “With an elementary school, you can have reading programs, activity days, lunch buddies, etc. For high school students, it is harder to get them interested in the activities. Elementary students come running as soon as they see you walking up, but high school students are more focused and you have to meet them where they are at. It usually takes quite a bit of coordination and preparation on both the school and the unit’s behalf.”
Barnett and his team learned of the March 26 Job Shadow Day opportunity a bit late, but eager and cooperative installation partners quickly came on board to make Fort Lee worksites available. Students were able to shadow a culinary instructor, a chaplain and a military officer.
“This was one of those happenstance moments when we attended (Thomas Dale’s) community meeting in hopes of becoming more involved in the school, and we learned they were struggling to find certain professions for some of the students,” Barnett said. “I knew Fort Lee had a lot of the career programs they were looking for and volunteered to help try to coordinate (Job Shadow Day outlets) for them.
“The students definitely appreciated the opportunity,” he continued. “With it being so last minute, it was a bit rougher than I would have personally liked, but in reality, I think the students kind of appreciated it because it added a bit more realism to the experience. It was less of a ‘show’ put on to impress and recruit, and more of a window into what some of the professionals on Fort Lee have to do on a day-to-day basis. That is really what they were looking for. All in all, I think everyone who participated here did an exceptional job stepping up to the plate to help out.”
Barnett said he’s already excited about next year’s event, seeing more lead time for coordination and planning as a boon to student participation.
Kate Dunkum, a junior at Thomas Dale, expressed appreciation for Fort Lee and the 59th’s efforts. She shadowed a chaplain during her visit, and said she enjoyed the spiritual growth and support part of it, but wasn’t as keen about the “amount of paperwork that’s involved” in the career field.
“I definitely enjoyed learning what military chaplains do on a daily basis,” she confirmed. “It’s definitely something I’m interested in pursuing in the future.”