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Patriot Elementary School ES2S club supports military children

Patriot Elementary's military club listens to their speaker

A few dozen students wearing purple sat silently in a classroom at Patriot Elementary School, listening intently to a teenager with a crown and a sash at the front of the classroom on a Thursday afternoon in mid-April. 

The students were there as part of the school's "Military Club" or officially known as the ES2S club (Elementary student 2 student). The club is designed to support children who are connected to military life. The young woman who was the focus of attention at this club meeting in April is Phoenix Stanford. 

Stanford is Miss Douglas County's Outstanding Teen 2019. She's also a military child herself and a Patriot Elementary alumni. She said she came to the school to offer support to the kids as part of April, the month of the military child. 

Miss Outstanding teen speaks with students

“I just want to let you guys know that you are in a place where you are cared for, you are in a place where you are loved and you are not going to be alone," she told the students. 

Patriot Elementary is the first school Stanford attended when she moved to the states in the 6th grade after living overseas. She asked the students how many times they had moved, several kids shouted twice, some said three times, and one student, a fifth grader, admitted she was about to make her sixth move. That fifth-grader explained she would be moving at the end of the school year and asked Stanford for advice about starting fresh again and how to make friends. Stanford said this question stood out the most to her because it broke her heart. 

“The best advice I can give you is to go in there with an open mind, don’t be scared that you aren’t going to make friends, because I promise you are going to make friends," Stanford told her.

“Talk to people, you can approach people too, remember that, ok? You can go up and talk to people, they don’t always have to come to talk to you. Be confident, be sure of yourself, and wherever you are going to be, I’m sure you are going to have a great time.” The fifth grade student nodded and smiled.

Students listen to speaker at club

The day she spoke with the club coincided with the school's "Purple Up" day, where staff encouraged students to wear purple because it indicates that all branches of the military are supported. The thought is that Air Force blue, Army green, Navy blue, Marine red, and Coast Guard blue combine together as a single color: purple. 

The day focused on learning how to offer support and honoring the strength and sacrifices children of military families have to make. Around 20% of the students at the school presently have a military connection. 

“I think the military connections are unique to this group of students and just being able to have someone who has been through it [like Phoenix] has seen the other side, has shown success and is willing to give back to the school is just a positive thing for our kids to see," Patriot Elementary School Principal Matt Hilderbrand said.

In addition to Stanford speaking to the club, the school also held groups earlier in the day called "Pride Groups" that include kids of different ages a staff member. The groups focused on teaching civilian children how to support military children when arriving at Patriot Elementary and how to make it a welcoming place. 

The Military Club is fairly new at the school and is only one of three in Nebraska.

"It really is to support kids for their military experience, both incoming to our school, when they are here and outgoing to our new school as well,” said Hilderbrand. 

School leaders went to training in November and the club officially kicked off in January. 

“Our group received some training through Offutt AFB and through the coalition for the military child, it’s called MCEC (Military Child Education Coalition)," Patriot Elementary Counselor Katie Boyle explained. 

"We received training specifically focused on how to get an ES2S program set up at Patriot Elementary. We are one of few in Nebraska who have this military club specifically set up for kids who are connected to military life.”

The club has exceeded all of Boyle's expectations.

"It's been a great opportunity for our school here at Patriot. What’s been awesome is getting these kids together who share these common experiences and allowing them just to talk and listen to one another, get advice, and just kind of be on each other’s side.”

3rd grader Ryan Sterling's dad is in the Air Force. He said this is the first school he has attended that has offered a military club.

"I really like it," he said. 

“They might and probably will know how I feel,” he said referring to his fellow members of the club.

“I know that other people know how I feel moving three times going from Louisiana to North Dakota, North Dakota to New Mexico, and New Mexico to Nebraska.”

It made Sterling feel good to see his classmates, both in and out of the club, wearing purple. 

He explained the club is great to not only talk about the hard stuff that comes along with moving so much but also the perks of being a military child.

The club has met every two weeks since it launched in January.