Last week I had the opportunity to attend a Joining Forces event at George Mason University. I had been waiting to attend an event like this since we moved here, and I am so thankful that it finally came. Since Junior High, politics has always interested me. I worked with legislators, Governors and lots of groups. Anything that affected children and young people interested me, so that’s where I put my focus. Since having kids, and now watching my oldest walk into grade school for the first time this past September, these issues have taken on a whole new meaning for me. Joining Forces gives me the perfect opportunity to get involved again.
This particular event was in partnership with AACTE, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and the Military Child Education Coalition. The main focus of this event was Operation Educate the Educators. A truly wonderful program that aims to teach educators about the unique experiences, lifestyles and difficulties of being a military connected child. On this particular day, Joining Forces – along with Dr. Jill Biden and Army Chief of Staff, General Raymond Odierno, was celebrating the fact that over 100 colleges had signed on to make this a part of their education for future teachers. Sharon Robinson, President of AACTE, stressed the importance of fostering awareness. In meeting social, emotional and learning needs they hope to improve the culture of grades K-12 with college as the goal of this program.
I admire the tenacity of both the AACTE and MCEC. Both programs are “Joining Forces” helping people to understand that this program is necessary and that is really amazing. Military connected children are extremely unique, they experience things that the average child just does not. According to what Ms. Robinson shared with us, nearly 80% of military children attend public school. On average they will change schools 6-9 times, which to me says that the majority of children do not have a built in support system within the community. Not having support in a place where they will spend most of their day is one of the unique challenges military children face.
While this program is wonderful, truly it is, what about the Teachers that are already in these schools who haven’t been exposed to this program? What about my son who has started Kindergarten already? He is in a school where to the best of the school counselor’s knowledge he is the only military child in the school. I was shocked when she told me that, knowing we are in a huge military community I expected more. And while I don’t expect her to know every child’s circumstance, not knowing whether he is the only military child might as well make him the only one. What are we as parents to do, to assist teachers that are already teaching? How can we help them to learn about the special circumstances that surround our lives? These are tips that have worked for me;
-Contact your school counselor. Ask them if they have any programs already set in place. Do they know how many, if any, military children are in their school. Connection with other military children can be a resource of support.
-Get involved! Be a room mom, volunteer when you can.
-If you’re close to a base, contact their youth services and see if they have any programs where your kids can talk about what’s going on, and interact with other children with military parents.
Until every public school, especially those near military installations, have a program like Operation Educate the Educators, there will not be an awareness of what’s going on. We can’t wait until teachers that have been properly educated have graduated and work their way into the school systems. It fall on us as parents to educate our child’s educators to their unique circumstances. We are the sole advocate of our child.