Just two weeks after the presidential election, Jill Biden has vowed to continue her work to support military families, including their children who face unique challenges relating to frequent moves, deployments and other aspects of the lifestyle.
“Joe and I have always believed that as a nation, we have many obligations. But we only have one truly sacred obligation — to properly prepare and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way, and to care for them and their families both while deployed and when they return home, because your sacrifice deserves nothing less,” Biden said, speaking during a virtual conference of the nonprofit Military Child Education Coalition Nov. 17. She is the former second lady, and her husband is the projected winner of the presidential election.
Military families serve and sacrifice alongside their service members, but military children don’t get a choice when it comes to moving, leaving friends behind, and spending holidays without their military parent, Biden said.
According to the Military Child Education Coalition, a child in a military family typically moves six to nine times from the time they’re in kindergarten, through high school graduation. There are an estimated 1.2 million school-age children of active duty members, and the vast majority of them attend public schools.
Biden, an educator for more than 35 years, cited the results of a recent Military Child Education Coalition survey where students, parents and educators weighed in on the resources they need. “With this critical information, we’ll be able to chart a better path for students, parents and schools,” she said, continuing the work she began for military families as second lady during the Obama administration. She traveled extensively during those years, talking to many military families and educators about the needs of military children.
The survey found that 41 percent of military parents and students who responded feel their schools don’t meet their students' needs.
“Again and again, I’ve seen military kids who choose every day to be strong and resilient, who face hardship with courage, who know what it means to sacrifice for a cause that’s bigger than all of us,” Biden said.
“That’s why we have to make a choice… the choice to support them, to lift them up and give them what they need to thrive,” said Biden.
When military children get the support they need, she said, “they can turn their unique experience into an asset for their school and community. That starts with seeing them for who they are.”
Biden described her own family’s experiences with the military life. Her stepson, Joe Biden’s son Beau, served in the Army National Guard. She saw the difficulties Beau Biden’s children faced when he was deployed to Iraq for a year. Their granddaughter’s teacher put up a photo of Beau Biden’s unit. Not only could she look up and see her father’s picture, "but it showed her how special his service was,” she said. It wasn’t just something that made her granddaughter different, but something that her teachers and classmates admired, Biden said.
Biden discussed the “Operation Educate the Educator” program, which was jointly developed by the Military Child Education Coalition and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, as part of the Obama Administration’s Joining Forces Initiative.
Joining Forces was an effort by former first lady Michelle Obama and Biden to raise awareness of the challenges of military families. The Operation Educate the Educator initiative was developed to teach colleges about guiding principles that would better prepare teachers to understand and address the needs of military children as they teach in the classroom.
There’s more work to be done, Biden said.
The Military Child Education Coalition survey found that 88 percent of the survey participants reported having activities in their schools to support military-connected children, such as recognizing Month of the Military Child, honoring service members in ceremonies and helping new students.
But only 41 percent of the military parents and students who responded felt that their schools meet their student’s needs. In contrast, according to the report, educators responded to the survey with a high level of confidence in their ability to address military students’ needs.
Students reported that it typically takes them one to three months to adjust to a new school. Students who responded ranked having a student-led, campus based student transition program as the top support strategy. Parents requested a designated on-site staff member who acts as a military liaison and point of contact.
For students, parents and educators one of the top two emotional concerns for students was feeling accepted and fitting in to the school and local culture. Deployment was reported by 42 percent of the respondents as a concern for the students.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.