Second lady Jill Biden called for more data and research about military children, during a summit of educators, advocates and others, discussing ways to better prepare school personnel to meet the needs of military-connected children.
"We need that basis and foundation," said Biden, speaking April 13 to a group that included representatives from many of the 100 colleges and universities who have agreed to participate in Operation Educate the Educators, a program that partly seeks to raise awareness among teachers about the needs of military children.
"I hope you all will commit to including the military child in your curriculum and that you'll reach out to your colleagues at other teaching colleges" and ask them to make commitments to this initiative, she said. She challenged them to "leverage your understanding to push for further research at your schools.
"The results of this [research] could have far-reaching implications into what is needed to support the resiliency and adaptability of military children," said Biden, who is an educator.
Operation Educate the Educators was jointly developed by the Military Child Education Coalition and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, as part of the Joining Forces Initiative, an effort by first lady Michelle Obama and Biden to raise awareness of the challenges of military families. The initiative aims 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.
During the meeting, participants brought to the table ideas and practices they use to help military families in their transition to a new school and during deployment, among other concerns.
"It's a super example of what Joining Forces is meant to be," said Mary Keller, president and CEO of Military Child Education Coalition. "Goodness for children happens at the local level."
The work of these educators not only makes a difference in students' lives, Biden said, "but it means so much to the service member when members of the community reach out to support military families during deployments."
More than 80 percent of military children are educated in public schools. However, she said, not every public school is in a military community, and not every teacher and administrator lives the same life that military families do. In some cases, teachers and administrators haven't been given the resources they need to recognize and support the needs of these unique students, she said. Because of frequent moves, military children attend, on average, six to nine schools before graduating from high school. These transitions from school to school are often difficult.
Educators at the summit discussed the need for more research; the need to foster resilience; approaching military children from a positive angle; and the importance of recognizing the diversity of the military family, Biden said. Going forward, there needs to be even more focus on increasing awareness for teachers in training, as well as teachers already in the classroom. And others need to be included, she said, from counselors to the PTA.
In the future, there will be more data on the academic progress of military children. Included in the Every Student Succeeds Act signed into law late last year, is a requirement that schools include a military student data element in their federal data reporting, which shows whether military students are doing well, keeping pace or falling behind other students.
Biden said she has traveled extensively, meeting military families, and meeting with teachers who have addressed the challenges of families in creative ways. She described a principal in San Diego who worked with her staff to create "transition rooms" that offer military families a one-stop resource center; and teachers in Illinois who are using writing and art therapy to help National Guard children express their anxieties and fears related to their deployed parents.
In a video clip she showed, a student teacher from Kansas State University, at one of the Fort Riley schools said the Educate the Educator program helps teachers connect not just with military kids, but with all kids.
One eighth grader said: "Military children are normal people who face abnormal circumstances." Teachers are supportive, but they don't always understand the circumstances you're in or what you're going through, she said. "But when you come to a place like this, they have experienced this type of situation before and they know how to provide the best support for you."
"All of the people here are really supportive, especially if a parent is deployed," the eighth grader said. "When I come here I feel sort of at home."
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.