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April is the Month of the Military Child.

To honor military children and their parents, the Tomah Area School District, the Sparta Area School District and the New Lisbon School District hosted their fourth annual Month of the Military Child Celebration Friday at Cranberry Country Lodge in Tomah.

Life as the child of a military parent has its challenges, said Tony Evers, the Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction, but it is also advantageous.

“Every year I’m impressed by the story of the young people in the room that are here, what they’re accomplishing in their school no matter where they go and the challenges that they deal with − with great perseverance and thoughtfulness,” he said. “It’s really extraordinary to think about what you’re doing, and there are lots of adults who have helped you along the way, whether it’s parents or teachers or community members.”

Being a military child is enriching to both the children and those around them, Evers said.

“We always talk about how diversity is a strength here in Wisconsin,” he said. “Your diversity of background and what you bring to the state of Wisconsin and the school districts of Sparta and Tomah and your fellow classmates is really important. Diversity is our strength, and you help us bring that diversity to your school district. So thanks a lot for being here today and making this a special day for me.”

Being a military child has helped speaker Maelyn Pitsenberger, a freshman at Sparta High School, find her passion as a member of the Boys & Girls Club of Fort McCoy — one of the few constants in her life other than her family.

She said the club gave her the opportunity to volunteer in the kindergarten classroom and work with youth with special needs. It also helped her find her path in life; she now knows what she wants to do after high school.

“Through this experience I have found my purpose, something I would be dedicated to ... a direction to my goals and a vision bigger than myself,” she said. “I was working with a young girl with Down syndrome that made a life-changing impact. This opportunity at the club has shaped my plan for my future as I pursue a career in occupational therapy.”

Being a military child presented the opportunity to find her passion of helping people, Pitsenberger said.

“With four moves and more deployments than I care to count, from the frozen tundra of Alaska and Wisconsin to the beautiful beaches of Hawaii and Alabama, life is fast-paced, scary, stressful and often confusing as a military youth,” she said. “As a military youth, I’ve had the opportunity to become a leader, create lasting friendships and understand true acceptance. It has been a wild and crazy upbringing that has enriched my life, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Speaker Collin Santiago, an eighth-grade student at Tomah Middle School, said being a military child has its ups and downs, but he wouldn’t trade it for anything. The experience of moving, attending three different elementary schools and being home-schooled for two years before ending up at Tomah Middle School for sixth grade have made him who he is.

“I’ve gotten to travel to many parts of the county both on vacation and while moving — road trips have become one of my favorite things,” he said. “When you live in different states you get to see a lot more places in less time. I’ve been able to climb ancient ruins in the Rocky Mountains, collect shells from the Atlantic Ocean and swim outdoors in January in the desert. I’ve camped in the woods in Georgia, explored caves in Missouri and helped spray paint the Cadillac Ranch in Texas, I have favorite restaurants all over the country. I hate to think how many of these things I never would have been able to do if my family had always lived in one place.”

Moving has also brought his family closer together and taught him about life, Santiago said.

“I’ve learned patience, I’ve had to be patient waiting for dad to come home, waiting to find out what happens next ... I’ve also learned how to hurry up and wait and wait and wait,” he said. “I’ve learned how important family really is. Family has been the most consistent thing in my entire life. And even as we change between cities, towns and even different states, my family has always been there with me.”

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