How School Districts Can Help Military Children

How School Districts Can Help Military Children
AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Elizabeth Flores

Every year, 1.2 million military personnel and their families face the possibility of receiving orders from the Pentagon to move from their current case region to another post across the country or around the world.

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This means yet another move to a new school. For their children, it’s starting over once again – making new friends, signing up for classes and, now, answering an important question about their educational status.

In 2015, Congress recognized the challenges these moves impose on family life when it passed the Every Student Succeeds Act. Included in the Act was a provision that created a Military Student Identifier (MSI).

Similar to provisions that track student performance based on race or sex, the MSI now requires school districts to collect and report data on military-connected students. As a result, teachers, administrators and schools will have a better understanding about these students’ performance and any potential support needed.

A recent study by the Lexington Institute looked at what some school districts with large military populations have been doing prior to the creation of the MSI to assist these children. The report captured some of the best practices that school districts in the DMV and others servicing about 1.2 million military connected children should consider.

They fall into one of three categories.

The first involves engaging with and communicating to these students when they arrive in the district. This means having an efficient system for identifying military children and directing the correct resources to the schools in which the students are attending.

This process includes having individual meetings with the student (and parents) to assess where they stand compared to their peers socially, economically and academically.

Officials at the Columbia County School District in Georgia, home of Ft. Gordon, have used these interviews to help allocate resources.

They determined that one of the county’s two high schools, Grovetown High School, had a high percentage of children of enlisted soldiers. As a result, the school is more socio-economically diverse and is poorer compared to Greenbrier High School, which has more children of officers. Because they have this information, the school district has successfully funneled more dollars and services to Grovetown High School.

Second, teachers and other staff must be given training to better meet the challenges and opportunities of educating military-connected students. This is particularly important because military students, especially those who transfer during the school year, often find themselves either ahead of or behind where their new classmates are in the curriculum.

For example, the Virginia Beach, Va., City Public Schools have determined that certain schools attract parents who are highly mobile, meaning they are moving into or out of the district every one or two years. Because they know this, they have trained teachers in those schools to be prepared to spend more time with these students.

The final category involves reaching beyond the walls of the classroom to the military bases.

Districts need to keep abreast of military developments, understand the often-evolving nature of the base and the lives of the service members there to better serve their military-connected students.

Some school districts that have been ahead of the curve have come up with programs that work for them. Some school districts, such as Georgia’s Columbia County School District, have even gone so far as having a member of the military serve as an ex-officio member of the local school board.

These school districts provide important lessons for their counterparts. If we want our military-connected students to succeed, we need to help our local school districts learn the lessons of those that have already implemented their version of the MSI.

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