Schools Told to Help Mobile Military Children Feel at Home

By Debra Viadero — October 04, 2005 4 min read

After attending eight different schools over 18 years, Megan Barron, a self-described Army brat, honed a strategy for fitting in at a new school.

First off, she’d join the cross-country team.

“I hate running, but all the other teams were usually already selected,” said Ms. Barron, a junior at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. “At least then I would have someone to sit with at lunch.”

Ms. Barron shared her experiences during a briefing held on Capitol Hill last week to unveil a new U.S. Department of Defense-financed initiative aimed at easing the difficult adjustments that military children make as they move from school to school.

The U.S. Department of Defense posts for military parents information on public schools and state education requirements. Teens also can learn how to obtain driver’s licenses.

According to the federal officials and scholars heading up the $1 million-a-year Military Child Initiative, the children of the nation’s 1.5 million military families are American society’s most mobile students. They move, on average, three times more often than do their peers from civilian families.

Although the Pentagon maintains a school system that serves 100,000 of those children on military bases around the world, a larger proportion of military children—about 500,000—wind up in regular public schools, where they are perpetually new kids on the proverbial block. Their stresses can be especially difficult, speakers here said, when Mom or Dad is stationed in a faraway war zone, such as Iraq.

“For all kids, school is critical,” said Dr. Robert W. Blum, the Johns Hopkins University professor of population and family health sciences in charge of the new program, which is housed at his university in Baltimore. “For young people where the rest of their world is in flux and where their parents are in dangerous situations, school is a critical—if not the critical—area of comfort.”

Relevant to Evacuees

Experts said last week that the need to help children feel tied to their schools applies well beyond the military, and is especially timely following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

They sugggested that schools can provide emotional anchors for the thousands of children whose lives have been disrupted by the storms, which have forced many youngsters from coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, especially, to change schools.


Research shows that students who enjoy a sense of “connectedness” with their schools get better grades and are less likely to smoke, use drugs or alcohol, attempt suicide, join gangs, or engage in sex during their teenage years, according to Dr. Blum, who led a national panel that produced a report last year on school engagement. (“Declaration Calls for More Caring Environments in Schools,” Sept. 8, 2004.)

Yet statistics show that, nationwide, 40 percent to 60 percent of secondary school students instead feel disconnected from the schools they attend. Part of the problem, at least for military children, is that schools set up barriers that exacerbate students’ adjustment problems, according to the military families who spoke at the Sept. 26 meeting.

Because of differing requirements, for example, Ms. Barron lost honors credit for courses she had taken at a previous high school when she moved. She was also turned away from the National Honor Society chapter at a new school, despite having held a membership previously.

Other families told of students’ having to retake courses or ending up in schools that did not offer courses in subjects that passionately interested them. Overall, one Pentagon survey found, 91 percent of officers and 90 percent of enlisted personnel with children in school had problems in transferring them to new schools.

To avoid disrupting their children’s education, some families opt to separate, leaving an older son or daughter behind, for instance, while the rest of the family moves with the military parent.

“No family should have to make that kind of sacrifice in order to educate their child,” said Jean L. Silvernail, a Defense Department policy analyst who coordinates programs for military children.

Schools can better foster connectedness for all children, Dr. Blum said, by setting high academic expectations; ensuring that every student has a relationship with at least one caring adult; providing a curriculum that is relevant to students’ lives; and being flexible enough to meet the needs of students who learn in different ways or need extra time. “What’s good for military students is good for all students,” he said.

Resources Online

Dr. Blum’s center has launched a research program aimed at identifying effective programs and practices and compiling them in a database for schools.

The center has also designed a Web course, workshops, and other instructional programs for schools facing influxes of military students, a phenomenon that may become more common in light of the extensive base closings and reshufflings that the Pentagon is planning to undertake over the next few years.

In addition, Ms. Silvernail said, the Defense Department has launched new online databases for military children and their families. She said the sites let parents and students explore schooling options and local regulations in the areas to which they are relocating.

A version of this article appeared in the October 05, 2005 edition of Education Week as Schools Told to Help Mobile Military Children Feel at Home


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Biden Calls on Schools to Host COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics for Kids 12 and Up
The president is focusing on vaccinating children ages 12 and older as concerns grow about the Delta variant and its impact on schools.
2 min read
President Joe Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus on June 2.
Evan Vucci/AP
Federal How Political Backlash to Critical Race Theory Reached School Reopening Guidance
A lawmaker wants Miguel Cardona to repudiate the Abolitionist Teaching Network after federal COVID-19 documents referenced the group's work.
6 min read
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is seen at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2021 in Washington.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is seen at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2021 in Washington.<br/>
Graeme Sloan/SIPA USA via AP
Federal Biden Team: Schools Can Go Beyond Trump Rules in Response to Alleged Sexual Misconduct
The Education Department's guidance, released July 20, states that Title IX rules from 2020 lay out "minimum steps" for educators.
3 min read
Symbols of gender.
Federal Fact Check: After Furor Over 1619 Project, Feds Adjust History and Civics Grant Plans
A previously obscure history and civics program has weathered a political storm, but what exactly has changed?
4 min read
Education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington.
Education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington.
Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times via AP