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AFRC, Gonzaga partner to educate

Gonzaga’s School of Counseling tours Michael Anderson Elementary at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, April 17, 2018. The group visited the base education center, received a mission brief and had a tour at the elementary school to get an inside look at the resources available to military children. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Mackenzie Richardson)

Gonzaga’s School of Counseling tours Michael Anderson Elementary at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, April 17, 2018. The group visited the base education center, received a mission brief and had a tour at the elementary school to get an inside look at the resources available to military children. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Mackenzie Richardson)

Dr. Addy Wissel, Gonzaga University School Counseling Program director and assistant professor, joins Col. Scot Heathman for a mission brief during a base tour at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, April 17, 2018. The Master of Arts in School Counseling Program prepares students for a career as a professional counselor in the K-12 school setting. The program features a group model, which allows students to progress through the two-year program with the same small group of peers and build a valuable professional network of supportive colleagues. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Mackenzie Richardson)

Dr. Addy Wissel, Gonzaga University School Counseling Program director and assistant professor, joins Col. Scot Heathman, 92nd Air Refueling Wing vice commander, for a mission brief during a base tour at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, April 17, 2018. The Master of Arts in School Counseling Program prepares students for a career as a professional counselor in the K-12 school setting. The program features a group model, which allows students to progress through the two-year program with the same small group of peers and build a valuable professional network of supportive colleagues. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Mackenzie Richardson)

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- A military child can attend anywhere from one to 12 different schools, if not more, during their childhood. They meet new teachers, new friends and new counselors whenever their parent’s duty station changes.

The Air Force provides a mountain of resources for Airmen and their families to successfully transition in and out of military life, to and from different bases and different schools. But who prepares grade school staff for handling the unique lifestyle that comes with teaching and caring for military children?

The Comprehensive School Counselor Program began in 2014, the result of the partnership between Fairchild’s Airman & Family Readiness Center and Gonzaga University’s School of Counseling. The goal of the program is to provide information on military families, military education and military life to future educators, administrators and counselors.

“This program is designed to educate the school counseling program students so they can have a better idea of the life of military connected families and students and be better equipped with ideas, knowledge and resources that will help them understand and help military families,” said Steve McMullen, AFRC school liaison specialist.

The program brings together AFRC staff members, Military Family Life Counselors, military parents and children and master’s degree-level students in a classroom setting to highlight action plans for school counselors who want to be more effective while supporting military families.

The School Liaison Officer and Readiness NCO discuss deployments and working with local school districts on behalf of military families. The MFLC often discusses transitioning in and out of new schools and the unique challenges enrollment poses for military children, McMullen said.

For the first time since the program’s creation, Gonzaga graduate students visited Fairchild April 17, to reinforce previous classroom discussion. The group learned about Fairchild’s global reach mission and toured Michael Anderson Elementary, learning about the resources available to military children.

“The goal is to give students a glimpse into what a military installation is like and gives them a chance to learn more about Fairchild Airmen and their families,” McMullen said.

The Master of Arts in School Counseling Program prepares students for a career as a professional counselor in the K-12 school setting. The program features a group model, which allows students to progress through the two-year program with the same small group of peers and build a valuable professional network of supportive colleagues.

“It is important to me that future school counselors be aware that students have unique needs and one model doesn’t suit them all,” said Dr. Addy Wissel, Gonzaga University School Counseling Program director and assistant professor. “Given our proximity to Fairchild, I wanted my students to understand how to better serve military students and families, as they have unique circumstances, needs and life stories.”

Wissel’s expectation is that when her graduate students encounter a military student and family, they will draw upon the experience they had with Fairchild and either make a connection to a base resource, or at least empathize with the student or family member’s experience and be helpful.

“I want my future school counselors to be competent and compassionate,” Wissel concluded. “It is important to me for my students to have a better understanding of the experiences of others and help them see what it might be like to be part of a military family. Increased awareness can increase our empathy.”

Gonzaga continues to embrace the program and educate graduate students on the military mission, culture, readiness, strengths and challenges faced by military families. The program will be expanding in 2019 to two additional universities in the Spokane area with hopes to expand even further in the coming years.

For more information on the Comprehensive School Counselor Program, contact the Airman & Family Readiness Center at 247-2246.