LEESVILLE, La. -- The sixth annual Cafeteria Conversation and Resource Fair at Parkway Elementary in Leesville, Louisiana was full of activity as almost 800 people gathered on August 1.
As the families and students entered the school, they were able to immediately connect with the school principals and staff from the school they would be attending. Garrison Commander Colonel Roseberry said, "Education for military families is very high, if not the number one concern during transition. I have two children, both attending Vernon Parish schools. My son will be a 6th grader in Leesville Middle School and my daughter will be a high school freshman at Leesville High School. We are extremely comfortable and excited for this school year."
He continued by saying, "Fort Polk and the parish schools are nested. We work together to provide a quality education for our children. Many of the teachers are military spouses who work in the surrounding schools. The advance class curriculum is outstanding and many of the facilities, such as Leesville High School, are state of the art."
All of the schools in Vernon Parish were represented at the Cafeteria Conversation. Command Sergeant Major Ausbun said, "Information is key to all parents and students. For a military family, education is important and a very stressful time during a transition from another installation. Events like this help reduce the stress on the soldier and their family. Teachers and coaches were proud of their schools and tried to help the students realize that they are coming into a great environment with staff that truly cares about their development whether it be in the classroom or on the football field."
After visiting with their school's educators, the families then made their way to the gymnasium which was filled with community and military resource vendors who provided important information regarding community and after school programs such as:
- Military Student Transition Coalition (MSTC)
- Scouting programs such as Girls Scouts
- Tricare Medical
- Fort Polk Youth Center
- US Army Child and Youth Services (CYS)
- Northwestern State University
- Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce
- US Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR)
- Fort Polk Spouses Club
- Fort Polk and Louisiana Museums
- Fort Polk Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP)
These were just a few of the resources available. Others included military student services, sports, music, dance, martial arts, health and nutrition, college and career paths, family programs and more. Sergeant Major Ausbun said, "The resource area was outstanding! It provided valuable resources to parents and students regarding the local community. This area truly communicated that the community and Fort Polk are invested in families and their student's education."
One of the family resource vendors was EFMP which is a mandatory military enrollment program that works with other military and civilian agencies to provide comprehensive and coordinated medical, educational, housing, community support, and personnel services to families with special needs. An exceptional family member is a child or adult with any physical, emotional, developmental, or intellectual disability that requires special treatment, therapy, education, training or counseling.
Marie Shultz, EFMP Systems Navigator, said, "This event allows for people to physically meet someone and not just speak over the phone. It also allows for military programs and civilian programs alike to do outreach. People are always looking for programs to assist in their lives, but are not always aware of what is out there. Going to an event with an abundance of resources allows families to explore what Fort Polk and Vernon Parish has to offer."
Vernon Parish School Superintendent James Williams said, "Cafeteria Conversation is an event where the Vernon Parish Schools can connect with parents from Fort Polk and all local communities within the parish. Parents are able to come in and talk with administrators and counselors from all of the schools and have their questions answered. The community has become involved in this event with the resource area. Parents are also able to get information on what is available at Fort Polk, as well as, the surrounding communities for their students to become involved in. I look forward to it continue to grow over the coming years."
Cafeteria Conversation was held as a part of the Education Initiative which is a partnership between Fort Polk Progress, Vernon Parish School District, the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, the Vernon Parish Chamber of Commerce, and community stakeholders. Each aims to improve school performance and educate parents on school curriculum. Fort Polk Progress Chairman Michael Reese said, "Working together, striving for a common good - which is the excellent education of all of our community and military-connected students -- is essentially our number one goal with regards to education."
Lieutenant Colonel Christopher McClure and his family Tonya McClure and their daughter Bella (4th grader) stopped to comment about the event. They are new to the area and moved a month ago from Georgia. Mrs. McClure said, "It was really nice and there was a lot of helpful information." Bella added, "I got to see my teacher. I am excited about school even though we just got out of school in Georgia." The McClure's also have a 15-year-old son, Tucker, who will be attending Leesville High School. Lt. Col. McClure said, "It was great to have all of the community here and in one spot. Very convenient."
It was a night of students, families, educators and local community vendors coming together to facilitate the progress of education. Colonel Roseberry commented, "This event far exceeded my expectations. I had no idea that over 795 people would attend, nor did I realize the number of organizations that would be represented. Truly amazing. There is an extremely strong tie between Fort Polk and the local community. As the Garrison Commander I am a nonvoting member of the Vernon Parish School Board and I regularly attend the Beauregard Parish School Board meetings. Fort Polk Progress is also a positive development that bridges the community and Fort Polk."