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While the standoff with Iraq prompts politicians to debate the idea of preventative war, Department of Defense schools have made up their minds.

Plan first, see if anyone actually deploys later.

Military schools engage in their own type of preventative war, according to ongoing research. Claire Smrekar of Vanderbilt University believes the schools are pre-wired for deployments, and that keeps classes sound and students sane.

This month, Vanderbilt issued a statement predicting that the children of the masses of troops heading off to the Persian Gulf would weather the absence surprisingly well.

Children do fear for the safety of parents at war, Smrekar acknowledged, but small schools and tightly knit communities keep families from falling apart.

“The military realized years ago you can’t have a focused soldier in the field if he or she is worrying about the family back home,” said Smrekar, an associate professor of leadership.

Smrekar is entering her third year studying military children at the request of the National Education Goals Panel, which is made up of congressmen, governors, state legislators and presidential appointees.

The initial 2001 report found that minority students in Defense Departments schools scored higher in reading and writing that did minorities in any state. And only Connecticut and Maine saw higher reading and writing scores throughout the student population.

Now Smrekar is working on a paper about how military neighborhoods and other factors influence student success.

She recently spent a week at Fort Campbell, Ky., studying its schools and community. And during Smrekar’s previous studies, she visited several posts in Germany.

“As one teacher said, ‘Deployment is just a way of life for us,’ ” Smrekar remembered. “It’s not an intractable problem.”

Pat Lambe, spokeswoman for the Department of Defense Education Activity, which runs military schools worldwide, said educators and bases share that responsibility.

“Our teachers and administrators work very closely with military commanders,” Lambe said.

Military schools in Europe are now meeting with base family counselors to swap notes on how best to combine forces. Educators want to know what base family counselors can add to what schools already offer.

“We’re trying to work it from both ends,” said Frank O’Gara, spokesman for Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe.

Smrekar also found that these schools faced many challenges including that half the students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches, most military parents do not hold college degrees, and military life means moving every few years.

Although Smrekar said military life isn’t perfect — she’d like to see more uniformity in how base family centers operate — she found schools do well on the uniformity score.

Smrekar said that curriculums are aligned with the ways teachers are trained and assessed, meaning that everyone focuses on the same goals from place to place.

“There’s a lot these schools are doing right that other schools can learn from,” she said.

The schools viewed Smrekar’s initial report as confirmation more than revelation, but the findings were welcome nonetheless.

“When you get this kind of kudos and affirms that what you’re doing is on the right track, it’s always well received,” O’Gara said.

So far, Smrekar’s studies tell her that if children are in need or have something on their minds, teachers know it.

“You can’t be anonymous in these schools,” she said.


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