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Civilian Schools Better Serving Military Students

School children standing in line at a gym watching a packbot.

Of the approximately 1.1 million military children who attend public school, about 80% do so in non-military schools. Indiana, has the fourth largest population of Army National Guard members in the country. This creates a unique opportunity and challenge for the schools and communities in which these Guard members and their families live. The Guard members deploy frequently, but there is no active duty Army base in the state.

There are many Joint Community Forces meetings in the state to help the civilian community support the brave men and women who live military and civilian lives, and have to toggle between the two. The meetings recently addressed how local schools can help military children. Many educators have no idea of the struggles these children face. A National Guard parent can be gone anywhere from 6 months to 18 months on a deployment. Furthermore, children of a parent with PTSD face additional challenges as the entire family dynamic is often dramatically altered.

How can the education system better serve our military children?

Awareness

Like many issues, awareness of a situation is an important first step. Many educators and school systems have no idea which children are living in military families. Sometimes, the only sign that a child is struggling is a behavior changed. I experienced this myself as my family has faced PTSD for four years. My daughter began acting out in the classroom as my husband and I dealt with the difficult diagnosis after his second deployment.

Fortunately, our daughter's school was proactive, getting her in counseling at the school, educating the teacher about her situation, and working well with us as parents. She was allowed to journal throughout the day to express anger and confusion. She was given the opportunity to meet with the counselor at any time she needed. My daughter formed a strong bond with the counselor, and being with her became a safe place for her to discuss her struggles.

I know that not every military family is as fortunate as we were with our school. I wonder: Is there a way to make teachers aware of which students are in military families? And, how can we provide support for those struggling with separation or other military-related issues?

Can we educate the educators?

The greatest influence in a child's education is often his or her teachers. Children spend the majority of their lives at school, and those schools often offer social support when a child is struggling with a situation at home. When a parent is deployed, their lives become much like those of active duty kids, but without the support of an active base and military culture. With this in mind, we need to educate teachers on the effects of deployment and PTSD on military children.

Teaching educators about the effect that military life, deployments and PTSD have on children would go a long way toward helping them understanding their students. Even providing teachers a basic understanding of military culture and the sacrifice required would help better reach these kids. Can we provide ongoing education for our teachers about these situations? The Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) is working on improving education for military children, but there are individual steps parents in military families can take to help their child, too.

As a military parent, you can:

  1. Talk to your child(ren)'s teacher. Make a point to talk to your child's teacher about your military status. If a parent is deploying or has recently deployed, it is valuable information for the teacher to know. He or she might be more apt to notice a behavior issue and bring it to your attention, thus allowing you to address a situation early. The teacher can also be sensitive about language and lessons the class related to the military.
  2. Talk to your child. If you live in an area in which people do not understand military life, let your child know. He or she might assume that others understand the military lifestyle, even if they do not.
  3. Access existing resources. The Military Child Education Coalition offers resources for parents, and this website for military parenting offers a comprehensive set of learning modules to help military parents navigate the world of child rearing.

Visit http://www.helpyourselfhelpothers.org/ to take a free and anonymous PTSD self-assessment.

Andrea Carlile is the spouse of a 12-year military veteran, received her Master's from Indiana Wesleyan University, speaks to groups about PTSD, and is pursuing a career in Family and Marital Therapy.  The War That Came Home is her first novel.

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