FORT POLK, La. — Education is pivotal to the quality of life of the Soldiers and Families of Fort Polk and, in turn, the success of its mission. 

That’s why parents of school age children were invited to an education discussion Feb. 20 at the Fort Polk Warrior Center’s Commanding General’s Pub. 

Edith K. Pickens, a Highly Qualified Expert to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs and senior advisor for Workforce Development and Integration, led the event and encouraged parents to discuss their concerns. 

Prior to the education discussion, Pickens spent time touring and observing local schools including Pickering High and Elementary schools, Rosepine High and Elementary schools, Parkway Elementary, Leesville High School, Leesville Junior High, Vernon Middle School and North Polk Elementary. 

In addition to the tours, Pickens talked to school administrators, teachers and military students to get a better picture of the education available to Fort Polk’s military families and the challenges they face.

Kim Moltz, an occupational therapist who works with military children, attended the event to advocate for special needs families.

“I think this is a great opportunity to share what we see every day when it comes to military children and the education they receive. I think this is a great opportunity for Families to make things better,” said Moltz. 

Maria McPherson, military spouse and point of contact for military students at Rosepine Elementary School, said she attended because she wanted to find out if there are new things happening in education, as well as share her own experiences. 

“I want to discover if there is anything that will support schools and military students in this area,” she said. “It’s important for military Families who come and go to have access to the latest information. They may not understand the programs available when it comes to classes and courses their children take,” she said.

Brig. Gen. Patrick D. Frank, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk commanding general, thanked those in attendance and said they were part of providing Fort Polk’s message to senior leadership across the Army when it comes to positive changes in education.

Frank introduced Pickens and said she was at Fort Polk on behalf of Army leadership because education is probably the number one issue when it comes to quality of life. 

“We want to listen to military families about what you hear from your kids, see in the schools and experience at parent/teacher conferences because that’s where we are going to get the feedback we need about the quality of education our installation receives here at JRTC and Fort Polk,” he said.

As the discussion got underway, it quickly highlighted a range of emotions ranging from sadness to sheer frustration. Fort Polk parents spent more than two hours tackling — with laser precision — the challenges of advocating for their children’s education. They, as well as Fort Polk’s leadership team, asked Pickens to listen to their concerns and take their issues to Army leadership.

Frank told Pickens that Fort Polk needs a dynamic change in education.

Some of the issues discussed included: Lack of special education programs; Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for special needs students not being met, changed or handled correctly; gifted programs not reaching full potential; teachers unprepared for Advanced Placement classes; bullying; and grade point average recalculations as military children come from different schools and bring scores down, which may detrimentally affect the college application processes.

After listening and interacting with parents and the Fort Polk leadership team, Pickens said the number one goal is to find a way to meet the needs of students.

“That could mean methods to make a curriculum more rigorous or offering a child additional help. No matter what the issue is, one of the hardest things to do is individualize and meet the different needs children bring to us. My time here this week has shown me that Fort Polk is committed to students and is focused on continuous improvement” she said. “One of the positives I saw as I had the opportunity to spend time here and talk with people in the district, schools, garrison and leadership, is a community that cares about students. I think the people here care about the kids and that is a huge asset. It gives us a lot to build on.”

Pickens said she believes the issues brought to here attention can be addressed.

“There are many challenges in education today and we certainly heard some here tonight. It’s not an easy fix, but the Fort Polk community is making education a priority and is committed to preparing our young people for their futures,” she said.

Brittany Zelt, a military spouse and mother, attended the event because of issues she has observed at her daughter’s school.

Zelt said her overall impression of the discus,sion was that she wasn’t alone in her concerns.

“No matter the age or school, we face a wide variety of educational challenges,” said Zelt. “I feel like this event was a success. I’m hopeful; I feel like I have to be since this is my chance to make a positive change in my child’s education. A year ago we weren’t even having these conversations; that alone is a vast improvement.”