By Elaine Wilson, American Forces Press ServiceJune 23, 2010
FORT BELVOIR, Va. (June 22, 2010) -- Top U.S. and military leaders took part in a roundtable discussion with parents at the elementary school here today to gain greater insight into the education challenges military families face.
Among the participants were 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; military parents; and other military and school officials.
The challenges the military education system encounters mirror those encountered by the nation, Lynn said in opening remarks, whether in recruiting and training good teachers, raising standards, or obtaining money for construction and renovation.
But in addition, he noted, the military faces two distinct challenges: frequent moves and multiple deployments.
With every move, families must work to solve problems ranging from ensuring their children adjust to a new environment to making sure records move swiftly and correctly from one school to another, Lynn said.
Additionally, military families often face multiple deployments, with one or both parents gone for six months to a year.
"That sets up a particular challenge for our schools, for military families," Lynn said. "How do we support those kids when one or both parents are deployed'"
The deputy secretary said is pleased to see Biden, Duncan and other leaders taking note of military education issues and working to tackle them through avenues like the roundtable meeting.
Biden, an educator for nearly 30 years and mother of an Army National Guard officer, said she and First Lady Michelle Obama are on a mission to better understand the challenges military families face. "We're here to listen to you," she told the participants.
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, whom she worries 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.
Lynn addressed training in an interview after the roundtable. "The general issue is to get both training to the teachers who are dealing with the kids in the classrooms ... and the kind of counselor support so the teacher doesn't spend all their time with just a couple of students who are having challenges," he said. "Partly that's training, and partly that's resources."
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 noted 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 noted.
"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."