Feature

The Challenge of Teaching in an Emotional War Zone

Catherine Allen

For the average Canadian teacher, the war in Afghanistan  seems remote. It is a news story we can turn off and ignore. And we can argue about Canadian participation  in this mission with impunity because it has little impact on our daily lives. But for teachers working at schools in and around Canadian military bases, the war is a reality that cannot be ignored, and its impact on their lives and those of their families and students is incalculable.

CFB Petawawa, located in the heart of  Renfrew County, is a case in point. It is home to 5,400 military  personnel, 45 of them spouses of the 440 teachers and occasional teachers employed by the Renfrew County District School Board. Since the deployment to Afghanistan began in 2005, 20 Petawawa soldiers have been killed and another 80 injured. In a small town of 15,000, such statistics are truly  staggering and have far-reaching consequences for the entire community.

Although less than a two-hour drive from Ottawa, CFB Petawawa is light years away in its psychological  climate. “I don’t think that the rest of Ontario or Canada has really figured out that we are at war,” observes Renfrew Teacher Local president Alice Paige. “I’m hearing from teachers all the time who are totally stressed and worried about their spouses who have been gone for several months; they’re concerned about how they’re going to manage their own children and go into school every day to do their jobs and face their students who are worrying about their moms and dads currently serving in Afghanistan.”

 

Project Petawawa

To gain more insight and to provide support for teachers and students in Renfrew, ETFO President Emily Noble and other members of the provincial executive, local leaders and provincial staff, representatives from OSSTF and OECTA, and senior Renfrew County District School Board staff attended briefings at CFB Petawawa in May.

Project Petawawa began with a tour of the military base. Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Dave Rundle provided the group with an overview of the base. He described the mission in Afghanistan and the military support programs that assist soldiers and their families during the deployment and reintegration process. He acknowledged that since November 2005, when the active phase of military engagement began, the number of military families seeking psychological services has jumped more than eight-fold.

 

Supportin military families

A key component of support for military families is provided by the Petawawa Military Family Resource Centre (PMFRC) situated on the base. It offers a wide range of services for children, youth, and adults, including crisis intervention, childcare,  parenting skills instruction, and help with issues related to deployment.

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