Pisano has spent his entire career serving a unique group of people: children in military families.
As a school psychologist, Mark Pisano has been helping military kids process emotion, cope with transition and do their best in the classroom for over 35 years. Pisano works in the Fort Bragg Schools in North Carolina, which includes nine schools on the army base, assessing children for learning disabilities and providing mental health services.
“Sometimes kids feel, and adults, too, that there’s something wrong with them because they’re upset all the time,” he says. “I help them understand that the feelings that they have during deployment — the fear, the sadness — there’s nothing wrong with them for feeling those things.”
After playing on the golf team at Clemson for four years and graduating in 1981 with a degree in psychology, Pisano began his first school year at Fort Bragg in 1982 and has been there ever since. He earned a master’s in 1982 and certificate of advanced study in 1984, both in school psychology, from Western Carolina University and a doctorate in education from Campbell University in 1992b.
Throughout his career, Pisano has not only been able to raise awareness about the unique experience of military kids but also further the resources available to them and their families. He has presented workshops across the country; traveled abroad to work with military kids in Uruguay, Bolivia and Cuba; partnered with Sesame Street, helping disseminate their literature for military families (even bringing Cookie Monster to the Fort Bragg Fair during the Month of the Military Child); worked with John Donvan of ABC News to discuss the intricacies of the deployment cycle and the way it affects kids’ development; and coauthored the Kimochis military families activity kit.
Kimochis, a California-based company founded after the Columbine shooting, creates stuffed animals designed to help children work through trauma and grief and build social and emotional skills. Each character is designed for different feelings and circumstances. According to Pisano, the military families activity kit (which includes the character Hero, a black Labrador) is now found “in every school building in the Department of Defense from Cuba to Hawaii.”
Military families live with abnormal amounts of stress, worry and transition. That transition means Pisano sometimes has to say goodbye to his kids when their families are placed at new locations. He says he often gets asked how he deals with getting too emotionally attached. Does he try to distance himself? His answer: “I welcome it. I don’t avoid it. I don’t fight against it. I welcome all of the friendships and the connections.”
Remaining engaged and connected is key in Pisano’s line of work; there’s always another project
to work on and another child to help. “I love the opportunity to make a difference,” he says. “That is really what’s driving the train, being in a position to make a difference for children, whether it be teaching them to tie their shoes or helping them get enough confidence to raise their hand in class.”