Community leaders in education and local armed services representatives came together to re-sign the Common Ground Compact at the Waterfront Convention Center in Morgantown, West Virginia July 29.
The compact is a combined effort between the Department of Education and the military to reduce the high school dropout rate and ensure students across West Virginia are career and college ready.
The Common Ground Compact was established in 2011 to promote mentoring, training and scholarship opportunities to all students, creating a network of organizations focused on supporting those struggling in school.
Local Marine Corps recruiters have reached out to students through the years by visiting schools and working with students on leadership skills and principles, mental and physical discipline and mentorship.
“I’ve got a lot of great Marines across West Virginia all with a wide array of experiences, both abroad and here in the United States,” said Marine Corps Recruiting Station Charleston Commanding Officer Maj. Gabriel L. Diana. “I’ve got Marines that have college degrees, and I believe what we provide the community is a role model for better citizenship.”
Diana, a Columbus, Ohio, native, signed the compact alongside Dr. Michael Martirano, West Virginia Superintendent of Schools, State Board member Gayle Manchin, and representatives from the governor’s office and select heads of local military units.
This summer, local Marine recruiters hosted 16 leadership seminars at schools across West Virginia and Ohio. Marines partnered with Boone County probation officers in May on ways to incorporate recruiters into the middle and high schools to act as mentors and give students insight on successful futures.
“I hope that our schools will understand that this is part of our education of our young people,” said Manchin, a Charleston, West Virginia, native. “I hope they see this not as a recruiting tool, but just as an education tool. I hope the schools see this as they’re not coming in here trying to take our children, but to educate our kids about what the military is and what it has to offer in the form of educational opportunities.”
Through the compact, the West Virginia Department of Education will encourage schools to partner with local military personnel to provide career and post-secondary education information to interested students in West Virginia Schools.
In turn, leaders from RS Charleston and RS Frederick, Maryland, both signers of the compact, agree to work closely with counselors, faculty and administration to assist in increasing graduation rates for all students. They will provide military personnel to conduct presentations in a speaker series on dropout prevention, substance abuse, suicide prevention and bully prevention.
“We did not realize the urgency and the issue facing this country. We have to support the military, our armed services,” said Manchin. ”More importantly we have to grow physically fit, academically strong children.”
Benefits provided through the compact include career investigation and planning resources, tutoring, mentoring and a speaker’s bureau to inspire, advise and enlighten students.
“This program builds great partnerships with our military, with our community to provide benefits to our young people and that’s what it’s all about,” said Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano, a Frostburg, Maryland, native. “We want to see that there is a connection to our work force, to our colleges, the work that we’re doing has to connect to the military branches, to the character development of positive and productive citizens, all of which is essential to the work that we do in the academic world for our students as we prepare them for life.”
The willingness of local armed service members in the community to help improve the futures of West Virginia’s youth left its impression on at least one of the speakers at the signing.
“It shows their understanding of the sense of urgency and how important it is that we have people in this country, men and women to defend our country,” said Manchin. “West Virginia has always felt so strong about how we respect our military and our veterans. We have a particular amount of pride and certainly want our young people to know about their opportunities in the armed services but more importantly to be qualified to do so if they choose.”
With this pact, Diana and his recruiters plan to provide greater awareness of opportunities for scholarships and the benefits that exist to those that serve.
“The best investment an individual can make in their own future is an investment in children,” said Dr. Barb Brady, the Department of Education lead for the Common Ground initiative.