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Highlanders 'dig in' and help students with special needs

Highlanders 'dig in' and help students with special needs
Sgt. Brandon Anderson, 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division
Military News

POSTED: Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 8:26pm

UPDATED: Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 8:32pm

"It fills my soul up" - Pfc. Caitlin Romanowski

Soldiers of 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, met at Nolan Richardson Middle School, El Paso, to landscape as part of their partnership in education, March 5.

During the three-day event, Soldiers cleaned out flower beds and planted new shrubs. In addition to area beautification, the plants will be watered by students of the school’s special education program.

The special-needs students, charged with caring for the newly added plants, have a particular limitation not shared by many others at the middle school.

“This group of students is non-verbal,” said Elvia Weller, a teacher’s aide with 18 years of experience working with special needs students. “Having this as their project teaches them communication and social skills.”

The students are learning to communicate through simple actions such as learning to share the water hose as they care for the plants, said Weller. These actions have a big impact on their skills development.

Joseph D. Manago, Principal of Nolan Richardson, said enhanced communication and social skills are only part of the benefits that this project has given the students.

“Caring for the plants also allows the special needs students to have a sense of ownership and pride in the campus,” said Manago.

The event had a positive impact on everyone involved. The students have a new resource with which to learn and develop, and the Soldiers came away with something worth the dirty hands and sore muscles.

Pfc. Caitlin Romanowski, a tank turret mechanic with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th BCT, 1st AD, was one of the Soldiers impacted by the event.

“This project is very special to me, because it’s my way of serving my country as well as my community,” said Romanowski. “It fills my soul up,” she said while hugging one of the special needs students.

Partners in Education has been beneficial to the school as well, one that even parents of the students recognize.

“Seeing the Soldiers out here in uniform, getting their hands dirty, paints a very positive image of the Army,” said Christine Mcleod, a parent volunteer and member of the Nolan Richardson Middle School Parent Teacher Association. “Anytime Soldiers are here students are impacted.”

In October of 1983 President Ronald Reagan initiated the Partners in Education program. Just three years later El Paso area school districts joined hands with Fort Bliss to establish the first official Partners in Education program in El Paso.

The event at Nolan Richardson was a continuation of that 29 year tradition. It’s one that the Soldiers of 4th BCT, 1st AD will continue to utilize as a way of honoring the oath taken when they began their journey as Soldiers.

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