Saturday, January 29, 2005


Kande Lopes, left, a counselor at Aikahi Elementary School, and counseling intern Kristy Horton talked to students in class yesterday.

Aikahi counselors try
to calm students’ fears

When Aikahi Elementary counselor Kande Lopes spoke to students yesterday about the helicopter crash that killed 30 Marines and one Navy corpsman in Iraq on Wednesday, she wasn't sure how much they would know.

But the majority of second-graders in a noon counseling session immediately corrected her when she mistakenly said that 26 of the troops that died were based in Kaneohe.

"Twenty-seven," the young voices chorused.

None of the Kaneohe-based Marines or sailor who were killed have school-age children. But Aikahi Principal Molly McCarthy still wanted counselors to talk with children about the incident because of the fears it stirs, especially for the 12 percent of students who have a military member in their immediate family.

Lopes and an assistant counselor visited every Aikahi classroom yesterday, giving short talks that emphasized the extra stress that children in military families go through and asking other students to support their peers.

"When your father or mother leave for work as a teacher or in an office, you're not worried about their safety, are you?" she asked about 40 second-graders who sat cross-legged on a carpeted floor.

Most of the children shook their heads "no."

Children in military families nodded "yes" when Lopes asked if they were sad, afraid and hurt when a parent is deployed.

Lopes asked other students to remember how these classmates might feel at times and to support them.

"These men and women serve our country in a very unique way, by risking their lives for us. It's their job to protect us and keep us safe, and we really are safe in Hawaii," Lopes said.

After having students in military families stand up, she asked the other kids to applaud them.

"We thank you for your sacrifice every day," Lopes said. "We know it's not easy."

One girl from a military family stood with her hand over her heart, as if listening to the national anthem, while Lopes read a child's poem that spoke of staying strong when her father was deployed.

Elizabeth, a blond, soft-spoken second-grader, has a father who serves in the Navy and has "been around the world, seeing different cultures." She described the military's work in Iraq as "to try and stop the bandits that are trying to get the people ... and sometimes they sacrifice their lives."

Lopes said yesterday that she carried a tissue with her to each counseling session, to catch her own tears as she looked out at the children whose parents are serving in the military.

"I'm like a dishrag," she said, dabbing her eyes after one class.

Teacher Barbara Fields, whose husband served in the Marines for 30 years, shared with one group of children that "it's not always easy" for military families. But she encouraged children to continue with their own routines and be proud that their parents chose "to have honor and valor and courage. They chose to protect all of us."

The sign in front of Aikahi Elementary, which is just blocks from Marine Corps Base Hawaii, offers this sentiment in English and Hawaiian: "We hold you in our hearts -- Aloha pau 'oli."

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