Jaelyn Baker, 9, had only a vague idea of what was going on when she watched the bombings of Iraq on television. She didn't understand, either, the words human shields and casualties.

But the Persian Gulf War became real to Jaelyn yesterday as she sat in the library of Arlington's Barcroft Elementary School and worried whether her volunteer tutor -- a Marine -- had been shipped to Saudi Arabia.

"I wouldn't like her to go," said the fourth-grader, eyes downcast. "If she were in the war, she could die if she got shot or something."

Since the war began last week, teachers at Barcroft say, they have been concerned about the emotional impact of the fighting on the school's 430 students. Of special concern are about 60 children such as Jaelyn who have developed a one-on-one rapport with a service member.

"I think the kids who have the Marine buddies are upset the most," said Lucye Caplan, a fifth-grade teacher at the school. "Those are kids who are experiencing separation anxiety. I think the news of the war has hit them much harder" than the other children.

About 30 Marines from Henderson Hall Marine Base in Arlington volunteer to visit Barcroft once a week as part of an "Adopt a School" program, which began about eight years ago. The group has been working with the children since September.

Other branches of the military have similar programs in schools and with youth organizations.

The service men and women serve as chaperons on trips, lend a hand during special school programs and provide remedial help for youngsters whose grades are lagging. The program, said Barcroft Principal Ellen Kahan, aims "to provide mentoring for young children and to give them a positive adult role model."

The recent hostilities, however, have exposed an unexpected downside. "It's personalized the meaning of the war," Kahan said. "It's made a group of children aware of the war at another level, because they're tied more closely to {those} in military service than they might have been."

According to the teachers, the youngsters whom the program was designed to help are often those who are most emotionally frail or needy, who most crave adult attention and are likely to suffer from a lack of it.

"These kids aren't verbalizing, but they're telling you that they hurt, or that they're scared in other ways," said fifth-grade teacher Elizabeth Iacoponi. "You have to learn to read all the signals."

Lisa Ferrante, 10, said she and her tutor, who has been sent to Saudi Arabia, often would talk about his work in the Marines, which she said had something to do with "jumping out of a plane with a parachute." Yesterday, she wondered whether he was with the captured airmen she saw on television during the weekend.

Thomas Prudencio, 11, said he never got the chance to say goodbye to his tutor, who was sent to Saudi Arabia during the winter recess.

Relief for Jaelyn came when she heard that her tutor had gone to the hospital instead of the war: She had had a baby.

Of the 30 Marines participating in the tutoring program at Barcroft, only a few have been sent to the gulf. Marines who visited Barcroft yesterday for the first time since the war started said they thought it unlikely that they will be sent to fight.

Still, Lance Cpl. Yvonne Bennett, 21, repeatedly has had to reassure her fourth-grade charge that she is not on the list to go.

"She's worried that I might not come back," Bennett said, "that I might be sent to the war."