Sixth-graders keep a ball in the air and communicate non-verbally while balancing on one foot Thursday during Military Student Day at Patterson Middle School in Killeen. The students learned and played together during the morning activities directed by Scott & White Operation Homefront and the Military Child Education Coalition.

By Todd Martin
Special to the Daily Herald

They don’t have the look of combat veterans, but many of the sixth-graders assembled in Patterson Middle School’s gym Thursday have lived most of their young lives with a parent deployed.

During Military Student Day, about 135 sixth-graders from the Killeen school walked through a series of games and challenges designed to honor and teach them.

Maxine Trent of Scott & White’s Military Homefront Services said the 2½-hour session was mainly about honoring long-serving military dependents. “I hope what they take away is that we’re honoring their sacrifice,” said Trent as she led a group in a team-building exercise.

In talking with the group, Trent and Joyce Hodson of the Military Child Education Coalition, determined that some students had parents deployed nine times and many had been through five deployments.

“This group has had parents gone for most of their lives,” Trent said.

Operation Homefront from Scott & White led the students through activities that required them to solve problems while working together.

Scattered through the five groups of military-connected sixth-graders, another group of Patterson students, dressed in orange T-shirts, served as the welcoming committee.

Eighth-grader Armando Fuerte pointed out that in one game the sixth-graders were challenged to throw a ball to one another without talking, relying on non-verbal communication to anticipate where the ball was going.

“It’s important they come together,” said Fuerte, whose father is retired from the military. “They don’t always have a parent engaged with them. I think it’s cool they can see the other military students.”

About half the student body at Patterson is military-connected, and many staff members are retired soldiers or married to soldiers.

“We know the impact on the students,” said counselor Martina Highberger, who said her husband was deployed when their son and daughter were in middle school years ago.

“We wanted to get our youngest students together so they could see how many other sixth-graders were in the same situation and give them the opportunity to get to know each other, rely on one another more and carry that spirit forward.”

Teacher Veronica Maxey said that just as soldiers work together, that students were learning to work together as well.

“Today has been a good day. We’ve been connecting with other people,” said sixth-grader Cassandra Bratt. Her mother and father are both soldiers.

“Today has been very meaningful,” said sixth-grader Tashonna Banks, whose dad is a soldier. “It’s helping us to get to know each other and helps us with our emotions. Some people might feel friendless, but not anymore.”