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April 26, 2015

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At Nellis AFB, elementary school has its own challenges, opportunities


Steve Marcus

Students walk through Lomie Heard Elementary School on Nellis Air Force Base Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. The school is the only Clark County school on a military base.

Lomie Heard Elementary School

Third grade teacher Ivy Bialorucki calls on a student during class at Lomie Heard Elementary School on Nellis Air Force Base Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. The school is the only Clark County school on a military base. Launch slideshow »

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When Principal Kori Deal stepped foot in Lomie Heard Elementary School for the first time this year, she quickly found out it was unlike any other school she had worked in during her 21-year career with the Clark County School District.

"Having to drive through the (armed security) gate, that was different," Deal said, laughing. "But other than that, we're a typical CCSD school. We just happen to be on a military base."

Built in 1951 on what is now called Nellis Air Force Base, Lomie Heard Elementary serves about 670 K-5 students, the vast majority of whom come from military families living on the northeast valley base.

As the only Clark County public school on a military base, Lomie Heard Elementary’s school days are a bit different.

Bright yellow school buses on their way to campus rumble by guards with assault rifles. Fighter jets flying overhead provide a supersonic soundtrack to classroom instruction. Longtime teachers don't bat an eye at parents in military fatigues walking down the hall.

This military backdrop poses unique challenges and opportunities for school leaders and teachers.

More than 90 percent of students have one or both parents in the military who can be called for deployment at a moment's notice. For children of active-duty airmen and women, long deployments can be a stressful and trying time.

Third-grader Audrey Zeller, 8, has a father who is currently in Afghanistan on a yearlong deployment. Zeller keeps a special calendar with her family, crossing off every passing day between now and when she'll see her father again. He is due back home next summer.

For Zeller, life has not been easy without her father. There's the constant heartache of missing him and the constant worry for his safety.

"I feel kind of sad that he's gone, but I'm kind of happy it's getting closer to summer every day," Zeller said. "I miss him a lot, but I'm proud of him. He's helping people."

The number of Lomie Heard students whose parents are deployed fluctuates. Some go on shorter, two-week-long deployments. Others are gone for much longer.

On occasion, both parents in the military may be deployed at the same time, leaving their children in the care of neighbors. Sometimes, though, students are pulled out of school and sent to a different state to live with grandparents and other relatives.

When there is so much uncertainty, making sure students' school environment remains stable is Lomie Heard's top concern, said Assistant Principal Pamela Goynes-Brown, also in her first year at the school.

"We have to let them know they're OK and in a safe environment," said Goynes-Brown, who also is a North Las Vegas city councilwoman.

As a result, Lomie Heard devotes a great deal of attention and resources to counseling students. Aside from group sessions to address grief, anger management, bullying and college awareness, Lomie Heard has a special session catered for students whose parents are deployed overseas.

Led by longtime counselor Terry Ann Coletto, these weekly half-hour "deployment group" sessions provide students with the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings. That way, military children realize they're not alone, that other kids are going through the same experience they are, she said.

"I love it because it's a safe place," said third-grader MaKenna McGough, 8. "I'm surrounded by a whole bunch of other military kids whose dads are deployed."

"I give them lots of love and empathy," Coletto said. "It's especially hard on kids whose moms are deployed. We try to make school as positive as possible for them."

Students in the deployment group often write letters to their parents, Coletto said. Nellis provided the school with special letter-writing kits for military kids.

"A lot of them see their parents every single day through Skype (video conferencing)," Coletto said. "But (for military parents) there's nothing like sending something tangible, like a picture their kids drew."

Teachers and staff also try to be understanding of their students' particular needs. When airmen and women come home on leave, vacation requests usually are accepted to allow for more family time. The school also adopts a relaxed attitude toward enforcing some rules.

One time, Deal saw two students in the cafeteria eating their breakfast after the tardy bell rang. Asked why they were late to school, the children answered they were talking with their mothers serving in Iraq in the early morning because of the time difference.

"You need to be accommodating," Deal said. "You need to do what's best for the kids."

That extends to the classroom, where teachers have learned to identify children who are having trouble coping with their parents being deployed and find ways to help.

"Sometimes their grades slip or their homework isn't getting done," said third-grade teacher Ivy Bialorucki. "They space out, having a hard time concentrating.

"They worry about their parents. Sometimes, school is not the most important thing on their minds."

However, children from military families are quite tough and hide their emotions well, said third-grade teacher Allison Mesina, who has a husband serving in the Middle East.

"It's difficult, but they're resilient," she said. "They make good friends and connections. We make it work."

Lomie Heard students are among some of the most well-behaved children Goynes-Brown has worked with, she said. Perhaps it's because of their military upbringing, she said.

"That level of respect is different," she said. "They are so polite, they give you a warm fuzzy inside."

That could explain why many teachers drive long distances from Summerlin and Henderson to work at Lomie Heard, Deal said. Although building relationships in this close-knit community is rewarding, those relationships often are fleeting.

In November and December, Nellis typically reassigns some of its airmen and women, and their children leave, too. Lomie Heard could see a shift of 100 new students by January, Deal said.

While that has implications on Lomie Heard's staffing and resource allocations — which is set early in the school year — Goynes-Brown said the hardest part was letting her students go.

While Goynes-Brown was overseeing the playground at lunchtime one recent Tuesday, a girl in a pink sweatshirt came running to the assistant principal. "On Friday, I'm going far away," the student said, simply. Her destination? A base in Japan, or perhaps Germany.

"You want to go that extra mile for these kids, but we have them for such a short period of time," Goynes-Brown said. "I hate goodbyes. It's going to be hard."

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  1. This school has a great reputation for outstanding care for the student body and their families. Our servicemen and servicewomen who are the Dads and Moms of these children, can rest a little easier knowing that their precious treasures, their children, are in the kind and capable care of truly amazing school teachers and staff.

    Any teacher outside of this Nellis Air Force Base school, gladly welcome such children into their classroom families. They know that these children are very well mannered, are literate about respect, and have educational work ethics. They are prized and valued.

    As a civilian, I want those at Lommie Heard Elementary School to know that you all are greatly appreciciated, cherished, and in the thoughts and prayers of not only myself, but others who know that you are a vital part that makes our country great and what good it is today. Thank you!

    Blessings and Peace,

  2. My family lived on a Marine base for many of the years my three sons were growing up. They also attended elementary school on the base. It was SNCO housing and I can't think of a safer or better place. Yes, there were pros and cons but our kids could walk to school or any other place on the base safely with no worries of traffic or dangerous outsiders. Marine parents, at least then, all understood that we needed to look out for all Marine children even if we didn't know the family. It would not have been unusual for any parent to assist or intercede on a childs behalf if they saw a lost child or bullying.

    And of course these children were politer, better mannered and more aware of their surroundings than their civilian peers. Today, all three of our sons are grown with families, all working and none have ever been in trouble with the law aside from traffic tickets. They are not perfect by any means but they are all hard working productive guys who take care of their responsibilities and families.

    I attribute much of that to the environment they had surrounding them during those formative years, the confidence they were safe and would always have someone to look out for them even if one parent or both (very rare) were away for some reason. Living on base was a little like having a very strict HOA. Trash cans by the curb and back on the same day. Lawns and exteriors maintained weekly, temperature settings on AC and heaters controlled to conserve energy, limitations on car maintenance in drive ways, housing inspections upon moving in and out and respect for other folks property were daily facts of life with consequences for violators. Those who refused to comply lost base privileges and had to move off base.

    Not everyone agreed then or now of course and that's fine. Some didn't like the restrictions and desired to live off base and that's a good thing too, but I remember our boys being able to play in a safe, quiet (minus jet noise) and controlled environment where caring, loyalty and good schools were a given.

    By the way, like Nellis the schools were early 50s. They had little of the amenities we take for granted today but the kids learned from teachers and parents, not the buildings or lack of computers or air conditioning or old fashioned desks, etc.

  3. May be of some interest: Recently, CCSD sent out a brouchure titled, "Pay as You Go Plan for Capital Improvement-Fixing Our Schools" and Lomie Heard ES was built in 1951, and the plan is to do "Major Modernization (Multiple building systems).

    There is a site for more information. Visit

    There is no question that there is a growing list of schools here in Clark County, as well as the state of Nevada, that need either facility/plant improvements, or be replaced altogether. Like many readers, I do have my reservations about taxation, how it is being done. Since a large sector of the community works for the Casino/Resort/Gaming industries, it would seem more fair to impose a tax there, rather than killing property owners with more tax burdens. Most residents/workers here have NOT seen any significant raise in pay in years, to keep up with the cost of living.

    Blessings and Peace,

  4. Until CCSD goes and reduces the administration overhead, uses redistricting to close schools that are underutilized or have facility deficiencies that render the school uninhabitable, or move to a 12 month school year to utilize the facilities more efficiently, I can not support another tax on the public.

    Taxing a major employer more will only want to make that same employer want to layoff or not hire more employees. Profit isn't a bad word, profit is used to increase the incentive for business to expand or distribute the profit to the owners (stockholders) of a company.

  5. Author, it's NOT because of their military upbringing. It's because of proper parenting...something you see way less of off base.

  6. In response to Commenter Donald Pettyjohn, while I absolutely agree about bringing forward more efficiencies with school districts before holding their hats out for any further taxpayer contributions, you may have missed a few things about the Nevada Casino/Resort/Gaming industries.

    Nevada's Casino/Resort/Gaming industry is well on its way OUT of this state. In recent years, they have steadily moved their eggs OUT of the Nevada state basket; across state lines (building casino/resorts in other states now), overseas (building massive casino/resorts in other countries), and yes, even moving into cyberspace with online gaming. They are still one of the largest employers in the state of Nevada, and SHOULD, by all accounts, have the proposed tax, for school building/maintenance/improvements be levied on them (instead of overburdened property owners)!

    Nevadans have been used by this industry, and in all fairness, should be paid back with the Casino/Resort/Gaming industry's support with Nevada's aging educational facilities. The little guy Nevada citizen has been hit hard enough and still YET to recover from this decade's economic disaster. The Casino/Resort/Gaming industries have continued to do very well, thank you, even recording record profits! Go figure!

    As an anology, this industry had written favorable laws for itself in the Nevada Constitution (over 100 years ago, when Nevada first became a state), the Casinos/Gaming/Resort industry used the People and Nevada in the flower of their youth, to later, while the People and Nevada have aged, and have been used up, abandon them, as no longer being a useful tool for their greed and expansion. Not much respect there. Sorry.

    Blessings and Peace,