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Military kids seek understanding, a level playing field

By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: November 13, 2020

From the time I toddled around in droopy diapers, to the day I drove off to college in my VW Bug, I lived in one small Pennsylvania town. The kids who picked their noses next to me in Mrs. Rowley’s kindergarten class were the same kids who walked across the stage with me at our high school graduation. I had one hometown, one high school, one brick house, one yellow bedroom, and one best friend whom I gabbed with nightly on one rotary telephone while draped across one mock-brass twin bed.

By contrast, as a military child, our oldest went to three high schools. He grew up in eight homes, in three states and two foreign countries. He has said goodbye to six best friends, six piano teachers and four Boy Scout troops. He played on three varsity football teams, and his academic transcripts are almost as complicated as the U.S. Tax Code.

I have often looked at my own children with worry and curious wonder. How do military kids cope with so many military moves? What effect do frequent school changes have on them? Does this instability leave them less prepared for life after high school?

A new survey provides some answers. The Military Child Education Coalition’s Military Kids Now 2020 Survey identifies the greatest challenges to military children’s education. Conducted over four months in early spring 2020, the survey polled more than 5,100 military-connected students (age 13 and over), parents with school-age children and educators. According to the Summary Report, the “responses were both heartening and heartbreaking,” reflecting “the strength of their commitments to their country, their families and their education while also highlighting continuing gaps in services, bumpy school transitions and fears about student preparedness for life after high school.”

The report states that 25% of military kids report moving two or more times during high school, but the real eye-opener is how students responded to questions like “I wish my school/teachers understood ...” and “I wish my peers understood ...” Military children want educators and peers to be more cognizant of military lifestyle challenges such as transitioning schools, adjusting to curriculum differences, experiencing social disruptions, coping with deployments, being stereotyped and finding acceptance.

Military kids also expressed that, although they deserve the same educational opportunities as civilian students, they are not offered a level academic playing field. They reported frustration with changing graduation requirements, gaps in learning, disparities in school resources and constant reassessments. Military parents reported the need for support with everything from placement in gifted programs to state immunization requirements to IEPs and 504 plans to graduation waivers.

Moreover, although 97% of professionals believe that military children encounter more stress than their civilian peers, only 38% reported feeling confident “[m]anaging behavioral and mental health issues related to transition, mobility, deployment and return from deployment.”

The report contains a “Wish List” of resources parents believe would support their children’s education, including standardized curriculum, a “buddy” system for the critical first days of a new school, military liaisons in schools, help navigating the college process, and “school choice for all military-connected students (e.g., public, private, charter, home, etc.).”

Senior military, government, education and thought leaders will offer an in-depth analysis of the Military Kids Now Survey and other issues affecting military-connected children at MCEC’s Education Summit 2020 on Nov. 17 and 18. Military parents, professionals and educators are invited to attend the free webinar, titled “Mission Steady, Future Ready: Meeting the educational needs of military children in a changing environment.” The agenda includes speakers such as Dr. Mitchell Zais, Deputy Secretary of Education, and Dr. Marc Brackett, child studies professor at Yale University; discussion of the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3); guided chats; and presenters offering boarding school scholarships for military children.

As a child who lived in one small town, I never had to move, change schools, or leave my friends. But as a Navy spouse and mother of three, I’ve learned that military-connected kids can cope with an ever-changing environment with the right help, resources, and understanding.

Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com, and in Lisa’s book, The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.
Email: meatandpotatoesoflife@gmail.com