OAK HARBOR, Wash. – Oak Harbor Public Schools welcomed Sailors assigned to tenant commands from across Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI) to the annual Partners In Education (PIE) kickoff breakfast at the Oak Harbor School District Office, Aug. 10.
As summer comes to a close, teachers and students across America get ready for the coming school year. On Whidbey Island, the PIE kickoff breakfast gives service members, whose children attend local schools, a chance to get involved with local school administrators and community groups.
“The Oak Harbor Public School System does a phenomenal job supporting our Sailors’ families. This Partnership in Education breakfast is the big get together for us,” said Cmdr. Steve M. Richards, executive officer, NASWI. “We like helping them because they help us day in and day out.”
Since the program launched in 1991, it has grown to include personnel from almost all commands aboard NASWI.
“The majority of the military families that are stationed on NAS Whidbey Island have their kids in the school system here, so any help we give them is helping our kids as well,” said Richards, who has been a part of the program for the last three years. “Every Sailor is a volunteer at heart, and they truly enjoy getting out there and helping in the community.”
The Oak Harbor school district is comprised of eight different schools ranging from elementary to high school. The program connects NASWI volunteers to coordinators throughout the district.
“Our school district, Oak Harbor Public Schools, is lucky enough to have commands from NASWI linked to each one of our schools,” said Carrie Riepma, the community resource coordinator for Oak Harbor Public Schools. “Each of our eight schools has at least three commands linked to each one, and they have made a commitment to provide volunteers for special events at the school, and to help out wherever needed.”
Sailors who volunteer do so in various ways through tutoring, mentoring, attending school events, landscaping, school clean up, and serving food.
“Volunteering is important because it’s the communities who take care of our children while we’re deployed, or even those on shore,” said Navy Counselor 1st Class Rodney B. Scheppler, the installation coordinator for PIE. “These are the people who we trust to teach our kids so I think it’s a win-win to give back to them.”
The city of Oak Harbor is home to approximately 22,000 residents. Approximately 50 percent of the Oak Harbor student population is comprised of students from military families.
“Oak Harbor is such [a] unique school district in so many ways and one of the key things is that we’re definitely the base’s school district, in fact 90 percent of the children connected to NAS Whidbey go to our schools,” said Lance W. Gibbon, the school district superintendent. “Half of our kids in our schools are connected to the Navy and that’s not counting the people who work on base, the base contractors, retirees, and others. “
With so many military students in attendance, the school system works to support an array of needs and challenges facing Department of Defense families.
“One of the challenges is the transition for families. That includes both families moving into the community, and those preparing to move to other communities,” said Gibbon. “The other challenge is of course the deployment cycles. We have a strong partnership with the Navy. Everything from deployment groups, that we’re able to offer onsite, we have built in programs to help students transition better, our student to student program for example, is specifically designed to make sure that every student that’s new to the community gets linked up with a student at the high school to help them navigate the system, meet new people, and make all of those connections.”
According to Gibbon, PIE helps to alleviate some of the burden military students face.
“I can tell you that for our students, when they have a parent who is deployed over seas and in other parts of the world, it makes a big difference, and it’s comforting to see someone in uniform, someone here at home and in our schools serving,” said Gibbon. “That presence and stability is providing a safety net for our kids, we value that tremendously.”
Nearly 25 years after PIE first connected NASWI to Oak Harbor schools, Sailors and teachers will again work to support each other and the local community throughout the coming school year.
“I think we are very fortunate to have an amazing partnership with NAS Whidbey,” said Gibbon. “You’d be hard pressed to find anything like this in other communities, and that just speaks to the commitment of NAS Whidbey and the Sailors on base that they can provide that level of support for their children and their families. This partnership here has allowed us to accomplish a lot of things that other communities aren’t able to do with out this. We’re very blessed to have the PIE program here and it’s our honor to serve the families of those who serve our nation.”