WAIPIO — According to educator and philosopher John Dewey, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
Educators and the armed services on Hawaii recognized nearly 400 military volunteers during the 10th Annual Joint Venture Education Forum, or JVEF, meeting at the Hawaii Okinawa Center, here, Aug. 25.
JVEF is a partnership between the military, the Department of Education and the state of Hawaii.
JVEF is designed to enhance the educational opportunities for students in Hawaii’s public schools, ultimately serving as an integral building block for a positive relationship between the military and civilians in Hawaii.
“We’re showing to the community what great things came about this past year — from the creation of a transition center that helps integrate students (and) the grants we won, to the constant mentorship and support service members provide each day,” said Tamsin Keone, director of School Support Services; Child, Youth and School Services; Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation; U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii.
Even as the conference showcased past accomplishments and applauded military volunteers, a dark cloud loomed over the program’s future. The JVEF, primarily funded through defense-appropriated earmarks, saw its funding cut when Congress banned earmarks earlier this year.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, chairman, Defense Appropriations, and Medal of Honor recipient, and primary proponent for the creation of JVEF, was the meeting’s guest speaker.
“This gathering, the 10th Annual (JVEF), is bittersweet,” he said. “Eleven years ago, this program began with a $6-million earmark. … This small program has done much more than some of the huge programs that try to achieve friendly relations between the public and the military.”
Hawaii’s military and civilian populations have a very intertwined relationship in education, as 15,000 military dependent children represent 8 percent of the total 176,000 students enrolled in Hawaii’s public school system, affecting schools on Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island, where military facilities are also located.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the grants and funding won’t be there, but JVEF will remain, and the goals of JVEF will remain,” Keone said.
Keone explained the direct contact between service members and students is what really brought the groups together.
“(The local schools) are very excited about our support. Many times, Soldiers fill the void of volunteers at their schools through read-aloud programs and mentorship programs,” Keone said. “Where they once saw the military as a separate entity with only bad effects on the community, now they see the military as part of their community with positive effects.”
Through partnership programs, many sponsored by JVEF, Soldiers feel connected with the students, and students feel connected with individual Soldiers.
“These kids are our future,” said Sgt. Elisha Hensley, 39th Military Police Detachment, 8th MP Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, and a volunteer at Haleiwa Elementary School. “I’m honored that they would recognize me, when I’m already more than honored to have a hand in their future.”
This honor is something that Inouye hopes is a defining part of the relationship between military and civilians in Hawaii.
“It is important that the people and the military learn to love each other and get to work together,” Inouye said. “These are men and women who have volunteered; they did not have to put on the uniform. They stand before the enemy in harm’s way and risk their lives. I think the least we can do is embrace them as our friends.”