Story and photos by Petty Officer 3rd Class Sabrina Elgammal (with contributions from Robert Hopkins)
Responding to maritime emergencies and helping kids with their school assignments present similar challenges – both require attention to detail and an unselfish desire to help someone in need.
The Coast Guard Cutter Knight Island port crew has proven they are capable of handling distress calls, such as assisting vessels taking on water or saving persons swept out to sea, while partnering with the Poinciana Elementary School in Key West, Fla., to help tutor students.
Deputy Director of the Coast Guard Civil Rights Directorate, Capt. Ekundayo Faux, presented the Commandant’s Partnership in Education, Best Unit Partnership Program Award to the Knight Island port crew last Thursday for their relentless dedication to mentor and offer academic preparation and assistance at their partner school despite a rigorous operational patrol schedule.
The Partnership in Education Program is aimed at helping local schools and community groups, particularly in underserved communities, promote academic excellence and raise awareness for the Coast Guard’s missions and people.
The awards are presented in two categories — Best Unit Partnership for best cooperative efforts between a Coast Guard unit and a school; and Best Collaborative Partnership for collaborative efforts between Coast Guard units and community organizations in support of local schools.
The crew selflessly volunteered nearly 960 hours during fiscal year 2009 at Poinciana Elementary School. Twice a week, during sparse off-cycle periods, the crew would meet with 4th and 5th grade classes to mentor the students, help with special projects, provide encouragement, guidance, and assist the overburdened teaching staff.
“Poinciana Elementary and its staff provide a warm and welcoming environment for us,” said Lt. Matthew Moyer, commanding officer of the cutter Knight Island. “Coupled with the sheer enthusiasm of the students, it motivates our crew to be even further committed to strengthening this important partnership.”
The crew focused on group studies, collaborative classroom work and emphasizing the importance of teamwork and its amplifying affect throughout the learning environment. They also promoted a program entitled “Group Think,” which teaches children how to rely upon one another to accomplish assigned tasks, meet daily learning objectives and strive for overall academic excellence.
Additionally, in an effort to keep learning fun, the crew used games to promote team-building skills.
“The students look up to Coast Guard members differently than they would look up to a teacher,” said Amber Bosco, principle of Poinciana Elementary School. “As a result, class participation and overall test scores flourished, and the children increasingly became much more open-minded and excited about education.”
As a way of teaching the students about the Coast Guard, they put together a picture collage of actual Coast Guard operations from past patrols, as well as conducted numerous question-and-answer sessions where they taught the children about the Coast Guard and its multi-missions.
“Consequently, there was an overwhelming response from the children, who asked hundreds of questions,” said Moyer. “Some of them swear, when they grow up that they too want to be Coasties.”
The crew also encouraged and stressed the importance of learning in a substance-free environment. The crew emphasized the “say no to drugs” motto through active participation in sports days and physical activities.
On five different occasions, the crew accompanied the children to physical education class, where they competed alongside them in a variety of sporting and recreational activities, teaching them the importance of stress relief through healthy alternatives. The crew also assisted with and participated in an all-day track and field event where teachers, students and crewmembers competed in tug-of-war and a myriad of other competitive outdoor activities.
Bosco said the school receives letters and calls from former Knight Island crewmembers, who have since transferred to other units, since initiating the program just over a year ago.
“They are not only mentors to our students, but to our teachers as well,” said Bosco. “I can’t thank the crew enough for everything they do for the students and the teachers here everyday, as well as keeping our waterways safe.”
Please stay tuned for a feature on the Partnership in Education, Best Collaborative Partnership Program Award ceremony for the Pacific Strike Team.