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In the United States, 1.9 million children under the age of 18 have at least one parent serving in the military, of them, 220,000 have parents who are currently deployed. These children are some of the most resilient individuals you may ever encounter; they are goal-oriented, college-bound and have a global perspective that makes them an asset to any learning environment. However, they also have an increased risk for behavioral issues, academic underachievement and emotional stress.But there is good news for educators: According to a report released by the Military Child Initiative, “a positive school environment, built upon caring relationships among all participants—students, teachers, staff, administrators, parents and community members—has been shown to impact not only academic performance but also positively influence emotions and behaviors of students.” As educators, you play an important role in the lives of military families; here are a few ideas on how you can continue to support these children in your school.

Make them feel at home
Children of military families are relocated an average of three times more than their peers. This means often students start a new school mid-year; an exceptional challenge because cliques are already formed and team tryouts are complete. The Military Child Initiative Best Practices report offers these suggestions:

  • Reserve spots in extracurricular activities—from debate club to the football team—for incoming/transfer students. The ability to include new students in activities mid-year not only makes them feel welcome, but it allows them to meet other students, and make new friends with interests similar to their own.
  • Use technology to hold sports, drama or other video tryouts for students of military families who have not yet relocated but registered. Welcome students to the team by sending swag with your school logo, such as a drawstring sportpak, sport bottle, or a team T-shirt.  Not only is this a great way to tell students they made the team, by they will be outfitted with team spirit from their first day on.

Help them cope
The extended separation of a parent and child during deployment can be particularly difficult for students to deal with. Often students experience a great deal of psychological stress, manifested through anxiety, worry and frequent crying. Assist students in coping with the distance using these ideas:

  • Deployed military members often miss the comforts of home, whether that is their favorite breakfast cereal or the opportunity to listen to a new release by their favorite band. Work with military families in your school to identify a list of home-comforts they are missing. Then hold a school-wide drive to collect both the items and money to help cover shipping expenses. Thank everyone who participated with a small awareness ribbon and add a personal touch to the package by enclosing handwritten letters from students.
  • Work with your student’s family to set up classroom video chats with deployed family members. This can be a great way to bring a real-time history lesson into the classroom while giving military students a sense of pride. Use this idea in combination with the military drive listed above or send some inexpensive goodies for the deployed service member to hand out to local children where they are stationed, such as gumballs or lifesavers bearing your school logo.

Whatever your opinion of military deployment, the struggles of children from military families are real; you have the opportunity to positively impact their lives.

“Strengthening Our Military Families; Meeting America’s Commitment.” Defense.gov. U.S. Department of Defense, 14 Jan. 2011. Web. 11 July 2011.

Blum, MD, MPH, PhD, Robert. “Best Practices: Building Blocks for Enhancing School Environment.” John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Military Child Initiative: Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, Military Community and Family Policy Office, 22 May 2007. Web. 11 July 2011.

“AASA :: Fact Sheet on the Military Child.” American Association of School Administrators. American Association of School Administrators. Web. 11 July 2011.

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