FORT SILL, Okla._School districts in southwest Oklahoma renewed their 20-year partnership with the U.S. Army.
Fort Sill kicked-off the "Army Partnership with Lawton Area Schools," or APLAS, for this school year. Fort Sill Commanding General Major General John Rossi and the superintendents of 17 school districts signed the agreement. Soldiers helping with the program do everything from fixing playground equipment to reading books to elementary school children.
The program provides soldier mentors for middle school students, and each unit on post adopts a school to help kids with things like science projects. It also encourages military families to get involved in their children's education.
Area teachers took part in Educators Outreach Day, which gives teachers an inside look at the day-to-day life of a soldier. Part of their day involved shooting imitation M240s and M16s in a virtual firing range.
"This part is hands-on, and so that makes any kind of hands-on learning is more fun," said Denise Aguilar, an activities director at MacArthur High School.
Aguilar says she has taught at Lawton Public Schools for the last 14 years.
"I have had several students from military families, ranging from generals kids to lieutenant colonels to first sergeants, and it is very important to have a good relationship. That they feel trusted with our school system, and schools in particular, to have success for our kids," Aguilar said.
Aguilar says she has seen the positive impact of the APLAS program first-hand.
"They help in the classrooms with mentoring. Actually, at Central Middle School last year, I know that we had a program where the soldiers came in and mentored after school to help students, especially that had maybe not done as well as we would have liked on the state's tests," Aguilar explained.
The APLAS program is mutually beneficial for both the school districts and the soldiers at fort sill as well. Major General Rossi says they want to use military resources and services because helping to build up schools is a long term investment.
"The better the schools are that meet the demands of the families, then they are more likely to maybe want to re-enlist and stay here or maybe retire here, and that is good for the community for continuity and it is good for our readiness for continuity as well," Maj. Gen. Rossi said.
Lawton Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Tom Deighan says no words could express how important this partnership is for students across the district.
"It's incredible to know that our soldiers and their families are devoting their time to volunteer to affect children's lives right here in the Fort Sill community," Deighan said.
There are about 3,500 children in families at Fort Sill. Those children make up approximately one-fourth of the Lawton Public School district.