GARY WEILAND: It's not all about the ABCs, you know it's about when a kid leaves here what does he look like compared to when he walked in the door. Can he think independently? Can he solve problems?
My kids blew the doors off of the standardized test that we take last year. I mean I had reading scores; the entire class was in the 95th percentile on the national norm, 93rd point third -- 93.3 percentile for math.
JOHN MERROW: But for Gary Wieland it is not just about his students' academic success.
GARY WEILAND: They know I'm a safe haven for them when something is wrong. They know they can come to the old man and talk to me about it.
JOHN MERROW : Of the 17 children in his class, seven have a parent away from home.
GARY WIELAND: I've become their surrogate dad. They really know that I have a relationship with them and I'm going to stand in the gap.
JOHN MERROW: Tedrick Philyaw's father has been in Iraq for six months. The day before he left he participated in a symbolic exchange where he gave Mr. Wieland full parental rights for $1.
GARY WIELAND: He came in the classroom and I said Tedrick stand up and I handed him a dollar and I said when you get back you owe me that and I said you know you're now my kid, little boy.
JOHN MERROW: Renee Philyaw is Tedrick's mother.
JOHN MERROW: Where's the dollar?
RENEE PHILYAW: Here in the wallet. He has it in his will that if something happens to him, Tedrick gets that dollar.
GARY WIELAND: I'm touched. I told Tedrick's dad, "If you take care of my country I'll take care of your kid."
JOHN MERROW: Gary Wieland stays in touch with Tedrick's father and several other parents. He's given out about $25 and, so far, has gotten all of them back.
JOHN MERROW: If a kid asks the tough question -- Is my dad going to die? Is mom going to get killed? What do you do?
GARY WIELAND: I didn't. Been there, done that, you know, they ... they hurt me, but here I am to annoy you. Your dad is the best-trained soldier in the world. The folks around him are as good as he is. What's to worry about?
NANCY WELSH: We had a child here, not in my class, but another kindergarten class last year whose daddy did not come back, so I do not want to tell them your daddy's going to be fine or your mommy's going to be fine, because I don't know that.
TIM HOWLE: I can't tell you I'm going to be here tomorrow. I can't tell them mom's going to be here tomorrow, but I'm going to tell you no matter what there's someone here to take care of you. These kids are resilient. They come into this building every day doing what they have to, learning and going on with their life. They feel safe. They feel like someone cares.
JOHN MERROW: Tedrick's father is expects home for a two-week break in April. Mrs. Welsh says Austin is still adjusting to his father's absence. Corey Keeling calls home regularly from Afghanistan where he has been on patrol, but not in combat.
EDITOR'S NOTE FROM JOHN MERROW:
On Feb. 28, 2008, Staff Sgt. Corey Keeling was reunited with his wife, Scarlette, and their three children, Shelby, Dayton and Austin.
Austin, then a kindergartener, was featured in "Lessons of War." He's now a first-grader, but he read with understanding before he left kindergarten, according to his teacher, Nancy Welsh.
While Sgt. Keeling, a medic, was not hurt physically during his tour in Afghanistan, he suffered a profound loss. His best friend in the military died in his arms after their squad was ambushed.
Tedrick Philyaw's father returned from Iraq several months ago. He symbolically "bought" his son Tedrick back from third-grade teacher Gary Weiland, who had pledged to watch out for him while his father was serving.
"You may be interested to know about a program that is going on at the school now," Gary Weiland wrote in a February 2008 note. "We are getting soldiers to work in the school who are part of the 'Wounded Warrior Battalion' here on post. Many of these men and women have been hurt in hostile environments and are assigned to this unit while they are recuperating. They are not yet ready to go back to their regular military jobs, but they sure are a blessing to this underfunded school."