By Elaine Wilson, AFPS
June 23, 2010
I visited Fort Belvoir Elementary School, Va., yesterday to attend a roundtable discussion on the education challenges faced by military families.
Gathered around tables in the school’s library, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III; Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden; Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and his wife, Sheila; and other military and school officials met with military parents to hear their concerns.
The military parents took full advantage of the venue, speaking up to voice concerns on a variety of education-related issues, ranging from school-transfer difficulties to the need for improved teacher training within Defense Department and public schools.
Kathryn Griffin, whose husband is in the Virginia National Guard, expressed concern for Guard children. She said she worries that they will get lost in public schools where teachers may not receive the special training they need to detect when children are experiencing problems due to a deployment or other military challenge.
Madeline Lanza, an Army spouse, echoed Griffin’s concerns, pointing out that many teachers lack the experience and training to recognize military-related problems in students. Her husband deployed last May, she explained, and her child went through some “rough spots.” While the teacher was helpful, she didn’t have the experience to deal with the problems. She encouraged teachers to avail themselves of training.
Renae Robinson, a Navy spouse, urged leaders to consider making it mandatory for servicemembers to notify the school of an impending deployment. That way, school officials will be able to look for signs of trouble and offer much-needed resources to students. Also, deployment classes and counseling should be made part of the curriculum in school, rather than offered as an option, she added.
Robinson also pointed out the difficulties of transferring between schools in different states. The Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children has eased some of these difficulties, she acknowledged, but not enough people know about the compact or how it can help them. The compact is a cooperative effort among states to address some of the administrative challenges military children run into when moving to a new school.
Biden said she’s aware of the concerns. “That’s something we’re looking into,” she said.
Duncan added that officials are working to establish common standards across all states.
Overall, the roundtable emphasized the importance of addressing education issues within the military, Lynn said.
“We need to meet those challenges, and then with the conflicts we’re in, we need to get the resources to the kids who are dealing with a very tough challenge with having one or both parents deployed for six months or a year at a time, and this is happening not just once, but with multiple deployments,” Lynn said.
“We need to work with those kids and address what is a very challenging situation for them,” he added. “It can obviously impact how they do in school.”
It was great to attend the roundtable and hear from our military parents. I believe the leaders gained greater insight from the discussion and will be armed with new information as they work to improve the education system for our very deserving military children. To learn about this event, please read my article for American Forces Press Service, “Military Parents Voice Education Concerns to Leaders.”