‘An Elated Kind of Feeling Everyone Is Expressing’

By Mark Walsh — March 06, 1991 5 min read

As the fighting in the Persian Gulf war came to a swift end last week, American pupils and educators reacted with a mix of relief, caution, and jubilation.

“There’s an elated kind of feeling that everyone is expressing,” Robert Wentz, superintendent of the Wake County, N.C., schools, said last Thursday.

Terri Thomas Klemm, a spokesman for the Christina school district in Newark, Del., said, “Everybody is tentatively happy, ... [but] we don’t want to throw a ticker-tape parade before anybody gets home.”

Even as the momentous events unfolded in the Middle East, there was a sense that many schools were maintaining their normal routines. The day after President Bush declared victory for the allied forces and offered Iraq a cease-fire did not have the jarring feel in schools that many had experienced on Jan. 17 after the outbreak of war, several educators said.

“I think routine is necessary in terms of personal stability,” said John M. Sweet, superintendent of the Douglas school district at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, where 75 percent of the students are Air Force dependents. “There is an environment and culture in the school that kids depend on for their day-to-day functioning, and we want to keep that day-to-day routine as normal as possible.”

But other schools were planning special events to express pride in the success of the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq.

The Holly Heights School in Millville, N.J., planned a “red, white, and blue day” for last Friday to show support for the U.S. troops. Students there were “feeling proud to be Americans,” said Bill Fenton, a school spokesman.

Robinson Elementary School in Akron, Ohio, had scheduled a similar “patriotic day.” Robinson pupils were also being encouraged to write “thank-you notes” to servicemen aboard the U.S.S. Saratoga, which the school had “adopted” earlier in the war, said Larry Marshall, the school’s principal.

Edward Garza, an elementary-school guidance counselor at the McKee Elementary School in Des Moines, said the children he saw last Thursday “were not as bogged down with worry as they had been” before they heard about the cessation of hostilities.

“They just seemed lighter today--like a burden had been lifted off their shoulders,” he said.

But at many schools near military bases and others with large numbers of students whose relatives are serving in the Gulf, the euphoria was put on hold.

St. Martin High School in Jackson County, Miss., will wait for the local National Guard unit to return before planning a celebration, said James Hodges, the principal.

“There’s a little uncertainty” among students “because they’re still not sure who’s coming back,” he said. When they are assured of no casualites among their relatives, he explained, “that’s when they’ll breathe a sigh of relief.”

In the Cumberland County schools in Fayetteville, N.C., officials were preparing to help 5,000 to 6,000 students whose parents have been deployed to the Gulf from nearby Fort Bragg cope with any problems related to their return.

A spokesman, Sarah E. Piland, said the district’s counselors will be monitoring students for possible psychological problems resulting from the war and any stress or adjustment problems of their parents’.

“We, in the course of working with the child, may also help a parent get professional help,” Ms. Piland said.

And last week’s Iraqi missile attack on a U.S. military barracks in Saudi Arabia brought sorrow to Greensburg Central Catholic High School in Greensburg, Pa.

The school sits across the street from the headquarters of the Army’s 14th Quartermaster Detachment, where 10 of the reservists killed in the attack had been stationed.

Students there, who in January had affixed a huge banner to the school and waved goodbye when the reservists shipped out, last week held a memorial service to again say farewell. The students lighted one candle for each of the dead.

“The children were very quiet and subdued,” said Mary Ann Fisher, the school’s spokesman. “I think this was their first real experience with this at the age they are knowing it could be them.”

Marquette Elementary School in Chicago planned to mark the end of the war in a subdued fashion last Friday. The school was to hold an assembly on “peace and brotherhood” it had scheduled earlier.

Rather than focusing on victory, the school, which has a multi-ethnic population and the city’s second-largest concentration of Arab-American students, is trying to instill the value of unity and working together, said Fred Kravarik, the principal.

By stressing that “the only race that counts is the human race,” he said, “we didn’t blow this up into ‘Let’s beat Iraq and Saddam Hussein.”’

Many students found reason to be cautious in their emotions about the conclusion of the war.

Students at the Harding Academy in Nashville were still concerned about an Air Force pilot who was a pen pal of a 4th grader until he was taken as a prisoner of war in the early sorties over Iraq. (See Education Week, Feb. 13, 1991.)

“They don’t seem willing to make a judgment yet whether things are over, especially given the fact that the position of [the p.o.w.'s] is still uncertain,” said David Dike, headmaster of the school.

Steve Tyree, the social-studies supervisor for the Boise, Idaho, schools, said he had encountered two reactions to the cessation of hostilities.

“One is the feeling of ‘Where do we go from here?”’ he said. “The other is a little bit of war-hysteria letdown where people who have been watching the events regularly realize now there will be a long, protracted, political situation.”

Meanwhile, American educators who work in the Middle East expressed hope last week that the liberation of Kuwait might bring an eventual return to normal conditions for their schools.

Maxine Al-Refai, who was the elementary-school principal of the American School of Kuwait, said she had no way of knowing whether the school’s vacated facilities survived the seven-month Iraqi occupation. The school was one of two near Kuwait City that served the children of U.S. diplomats and business officials.

Ms. Al-Refai, a U.S. native who is married to a Kuwaiti, escaped the emirate soon after the Iraqi invasion. (See Education Week, Sept. 5, 1990.)

The educator said she would definitely return to live in Kuwait “as soon as possible. My husband has family there and we are anxious to hear of their condition.”

In Saudi Arabia, where American schools closed only temporarily during the war, there was an expectation that the number of American expatriates could soon grow.

D. Owen Harrison, superintendent of schools for Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company that employs thousands of U.S. citizens, said a fourth company-run school would be reopened next year to serve an increased number of expatriates’ children.

Information for this story was also gathered by Deborah L. Cohen, Wendy S. McDowell, and Peter Schmidt.

A version of this article appeared in the March 06, 1991 edition of Education Week as ‘An Elated Kind of Feeling Everyone Is Expressing’