KATHERINE, NORTHERN TERRITORY, Australia --
U.S. Marines assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 visited MacFarlane Primary School in Katherine, Northern Territory, Australia, during Southern Frontier Aug. 29- Sept.2, 2016.
Every iteration of Southern Frontier, a three week unit level training conducted by U.S. Marines at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, MacFarlane Primary School makes an effort to invite Marines to the school to mentor their students.
The primary school has a special purpose in the Northern Territory as they host approximately 248 students, and is sometimes the only exposure to structure and education that the students have.
“The reason we are so excited to invite the Marines to come in uniform, is because many of these students come from broken homes and are not exposed to a standardized community that has a mother, father, school, or regime,” said Cameron Eglington, assistant principal at MacFarlane Primary School. “The Marines are a role model for the students, bringing with them a sense of control and structure that hopefully will positively impact these children for years to come.”
With an indigenous student population in excess of 92 percent, many children arrive and leave the school within weeks, sometimes not returning for another term or year. This creates an environment with very little structure, positive role models and educational background.
“Our main goal is to provide them with a consolidated education in literacy and numeracy, respect and behavior management,” said Eglington. “More than 80 percent of the students do not come to us speaking Australian English. They speak Pidgin English and their tribal languages, which can be a mixture of up to 20 different indigenous traditional languages. Many arrive at the ages of three, four or five speaking three to four different languages. That is where the Marines help immensely.”
Eglington said these students come from a multi-linguistic culture, just as the Marines have a distinct multicultural background. Their attention is captured when they see a person with an American accent.
“We visited the primary school to mentor the kids and give them the ‘big brother’ treatment,” said U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Cody Braunscheidel, an aviation logistics information management systems specialist assigned to VMFA-122. “Getting one-on-one attention with the Marines gave the students a level of attention most of these kids don’t receive at home.”
Marines took time to personally interact with each student, play sports, help them with math and English class, and everyday problems they may have. They even assisted the staff with classroom arguments or solving playground disputes.
“I feel we did make a difference,” said Braunscheidel. “The kids responded very well to us. We were able to demonstrate to them how respect and discipline can pay off in the end and how team work and following instructions makes life easier, whether it be sports, setting up the classroom or group assignments.”
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Ryan South, a tactical switch operator with Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, said the students were very curious, mostly about the weapons we use and our jets that fly over the school. South and the other Marines also showed the students where America is in relation to Australia because most of the students did not know where it was.
“Our school faces many challenges unique to us, this is why we really impress upon the Marines to come visit during their exercises in Tindal,” said Eglington. “They offer such an awesome opportunity to our students and give them someone to look up to and emulate, even if it is just for a short amount of time. I hope that we can continue these visits for many years to come.”