Bedford High School counselor Brian DeChellis is explicit. “I have the best job in the Bedford Public Schools, easily, hands down. I love what I do.”
DeChellis worked with teens in and out of Brockton schools for more than a decade before joining the BHS counseling office in the fall of 2008, specifically to connect with the children of active military families living on and off Hanscom Air Force Base.
He is joining the school community in the Defense Department’s annual celebration of April as the Month of the Military Child.
“It says a lot about a district that hires someone to work with military families,” DeChellis said. “There’s a whole set of unique circumstances. Because of that we have a really strong relationship with Hanscom, and it’s like we have two middle schools, John Glenn and Hanscom. It was really forward thinking.”
There were about 80 military students that first year, and since then the number has fluctuated to as high as 130, returning to 80 this year, he said. In a typical school year, he said, BHS welcomes five to eight new military seniors, and about 35 students overall.
“On average, a military family will move every two to three years,” DeChellis said, adding, “We have kids who have been to 10 or 12 different schools.” That takes a social-emotional toll, he said: “leaving friends behind, being the new kid every year. And not all curricula are aligned. Our district does a great job addressing the social-emotional needs as well as the academic issues they may encounter.”
“My job has turned into being that point of contact for parents and students,” DeChellis said. “I love working with the students and their parents. It’s an ongoing, constant education for me. I came in here not knowing anything about the military and what they do. “These kids are truly global citizens; some of them have lived all over the world, some speak multiple languages,” DeChellis said. “But they also have to be teenagers and that in itself is a challenge.”
And over time, those challenges “help military students develop resiliency that allows them to handle certain situations. Sometimes it can be a difficult transition, but there is a resilience and a perspective that they have that I’ve never encountered in teenagers. It’s an amazing group of kids. And they bring so much diversity to our district.”
The students serve alongside their families, DeChellis pointed out. “And they sacrifice a lot. Kids get settled and connected and the next thing you know, [they’re] moving. That can be devastating,” though he acknowledged that technology has helped.
“It’s amazing to see how they transition here and they become fully integrated and a part of our school community.”
As a college counselor, he has noted that “people have this idea that because they are military, they go into the military. It can be the complete opposite. There are kids who enlist, but the majority goes off to schools all over the country.” He also noted, “They might end up in places where they have fond memories as a child.”
DeChellis also mentioned that some new arrivals are required to take the MCAS tests, normally administered to sophomores. Passing MCAS is a graduation requirement. The counselor said that through the Military Interstate Compact, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education may grant MCAS waivers based on previous performance in other states’ standardized tests.
“It’s another layer of stress for them,” DeChellis said, noting that two new BHS seniors are required to pass MCAS exams this year.
Bedford receives payments from the state and federal government for educating military dependents, but DeChellis feels that “even if we weren’t getting any kind of reimbursement, there’s a benefit of having such a diverse group.”
Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger started the Month of the Military Child observance in the mid-1980s and designated purple as the official color because it represents the combined colors of all service branch flags, DeChellis explained.
BHS celebrated its military dependents with a breakfast in the library just before the April vacation. Local and state officials attended, and one shared a proclamation. In the BHS lobby, DeChellis set up a display of photographs of 25 military dependents who arrived during the past 12 months.