479th FA soldiers work with Gatesville primary students

Staff Sgt. Robert Barhorst, right, and Staff Sgt. Ricardo Najera, second from right, both of 1st Battalion, 393rd Infantry Regiment, 479th Field Artillery Brigade, Division West, assist with the bucking bronco station during Western Day at Gatesville Primary School in February. Soldiers in the unit regularly visit the school to work with students and help with special events.

Courtesy photo

GATESVILLE — The Gatesville Primary School and 1st Battalion, 393rd Infantry Regiment, 479th Field Artillery Brigade, Division West, have been enjoying a newfound relationship since the start of the calendar year.

Soldiers from the Coyote Battalion are finding time in their busy day to volunteer at the school and participate in classroom activities.

The school’s flexible lab schedules allow soldiers to stop by for any of the daily reading or math labs and sit down with the kindergarten and first-grade students. Volunteers are able to work with some of the children and give them one-on-one attention and work on reading comprehension drills, word pronunciation and math tables. Soldiers can stay for an entire 40-minute lab session, or assist with multiple labs, if they have the time.

Teachers and lab instructors are glad to have the extra help, said kindergarten teacher Darla Wallace.

“There aren’t many schools that can boast about having soldiers come to their school and help with events,” Wallace said.

This growing partnership has also given the soldiers the opportunity to get involved with some of the school’s other activities. Recently, the Coyote Battalion dropped by the school for Centers Day, and in February, soldiers helped out with the school’s Western Day.

Centers Day is held once a month in the reading lab and involves the students breaking down into buddy teams to rotate through various activities. Students and soldiers alike had a blast with Staff Sgt. Ricardo Najera helping out with puzzles and Sgt. 1st Class Julie Skoda reading stories and setting up a magnetized house.

Western Day was a far more involved affair, with the Gatesville High School Rodeo Club stopping by to get the kids up-close and personal with a horse and a goat, in addition to other activities.

Staff Sgts. Matthew Scholten and Ty Vincent attempted to impress the kids with some lassoing, while Najera and Staff Sgt. Robert Barhorst got students ready for the rodeo at the bucking bronco station. Staff Sgt. Paula Long kept time and let groups know when to rotate, as Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Henson handed out high-fives and tried to get a physical training session going.

Unfortunately, bad weather drove the Western Day activities inside, except for the horse and goat, which had to settle for the awning at the school’s back door.

Teachers kept the events going with indoor stick horse races and camp fire songs, while the Coyote volunteers jumped in to help out and sing along, often out of tune.

“Despite the bad weather and the change of plans, we appreciate having the soldiers around; they’re a great influence on the kids,” said school principal Scott Harper.

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