TODAY

TODAY   |  February 21, 2013

New program gives vets jobs, makes schools safer

New Department of Defense initiative Troops to Teachers is quickly becoming a win-win program for veterans and schools, as qualified service members get trained as teachers and create a safer environment for public schools. NBC’s Craig Melvin reports.

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>>> for veterans and for schools. craig melvin has the story of vets getting new jobs while schools are getting a safer environment. good to see you.

>> this is a cool story. called troops to teachers. a department of defense program that helps qualified service members start a new career as teachers in public schools . at one middle school in philadelphia where the school was in a lot of ways like a battlefield, it has made a huge difference. in east philly, john paul jones middle school had a reputation.

>> it used to be on lockdown.

>> reporter: captured on a cell phone at a nearby middle school common here, too. mold, fleas and rats ravaged the library so badly school officials had to throw away thousands of books.

>> when i first came, i was pretty nervous. i thought it was going to be a little scary.

>> reporter: the nickname came before the bars on the windows and doors, "jones jail." last september, eighth grader travon williams says something happened.

>> this became a whole new school.

>> reporter: school district officials turned it into a charter school , gave it a new name and face lift and then called in the military.

>> we needed to have people who are good role models and believe in education and development and people that had a commitment to america and who else but veterans?

>> i enlisted when i was 17. my parents signed for me.

>> reporter: patrick's father is a vietnam vet and a purple heart recipient. his older brother is a marine. since service was in his blood, he joined the army reserves 12 years ago. when he finished a tour in kuwait in 2011 and couldn't find a job, he turned to another passion.

>> i used to be very good with my younger nephews and my cousins, so my parents just used to say, you should be a teacher.

>> reporter: a defense department program called troops to teachers helped the sergeant go from running a military supply office to go to teaching fifth grade math and science. through the program service members get help finding teacher certification programs and money to pay for the classes and then more support to land a job. all that helped get the sergeant in the classroom but his military training made sure he was ready.

>> the military puts you in stressful situations and they ask you to be a leader during stressful situations. so when you're placed in a classroom, there's not many more situations that can be more stressful.

>> reporter: when students get out of hand, he calls in reinforcements.

>> i just calmly step back and let them calm down and i call one of our engagement coaches.

>> reporter: andy patrolled bases in the army reserves for eight years, dealing with soldiers prepared her for students most days.

>>> can put up with a lot. there's been a time at the cafeteria table i had to settle everybody down. i'm not going to say it's all sunshine and roses.

>> reporter: she is here under a new program for teachers training to be teachers or school counselors called "at ease" they're part security guards , part mentors.

>> i talk to them, i have to be their older brother.

>> we have a students that need a lot of attention and a lot of support. but they have come such a long way.

>> reporter: servicemen and women, some of whom left the battlefield, now fighting to turn around the school and give students a chance at success.

>> i want to be the president of the united states or an s.w.a.t. team member. i want to go to combat.

>> the majority of students at the academy were three to four years behind academically. there's still a lot of work to be done. thanks to the veterans' program organizers tell us students have more confidence now and are fully expecting large gains in student achievement .

>> hard to conceive of a better program helping the schools and veterans. thanks so much.

>> thank you.