DOD unveils new programs to help military kids who are changing schools
WASHINGTON — Megan Barron said life as an Army brat meant attending four different elementary schools, two middle schools and three different high schools because of her father’s deployments.
“I’d get to schools and they wouldn’t accept my honors classes because they had different standards than the last school,” she said. “Or I couldn’t join the honors society because they had different standards in a different country.
“As a military child, those should not be my concerns. I already had enough concerns with finding new friends and trying to fit in.”
On Monday the Department of Defense unveiled new programs to help military students like Barron as they move from school to school, or as they move from defense department schools into the public school system.
Jean Silvernail, policy analyst for the department’s Military Child in Transition program, said education is among the top quality-of-life complaints from troops as they are reassigned in their careers. Families will often live in different states or even end their military careers prematurely to keep children in a stable school environment.
In response, officials have established an online site — www.militarystudent.org — where parents and children can learn about rules in different states and communities, to ease some of the problems of switching schools.
That includes information on what courses are needed for graduation, rules for getting a driver’s license in different states, and even advice for younger students on how to make friends.
In addition, the department has begun working with public and private schools that have military children to assess how they deal with those students, and what extra services faculty can provide.
Silvernail said that could be as simple as handouts about the military structure or as complex as full briefings with faculty on ways to better understand the children’s lives in military families.
The goal is to create schools where military children can feel comfortable. Robert Blum, a Johns Hopkins University administrator studying military students, said his research has seen a clear correlation between children’s behavior and their connectedness to their school.
Teen drug use, pregnancy and smoking all decrease among students who are comfortable at their schools, he said.
“For young people, when the rest of their world is in flux, or when they may have parents who are in dangerous situations, school can be a critical arena of comfort,” he said. “When school connectedness is high, it means good things for kids.”
Plans are also under way to expand the site to include detailed descriptions of schools across America — including test score averages, private school data and home schooling regulations as well — to help families make choices about where to send their children to get the best education.
Barron, now a junior at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, said at Monday’s event she would have preferred her teachers and classmates knew more about her background when she was growing up.
“I’m proud of my military heritage,” she said. “But any military child will tell you it’s not easy.”