WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2010 -- The Department of Defense Education Activity awarded more than $38 million in grants this year to public schools serving military children across the nation.

Officials awarded the grants to 32 military-connected school districts to boost student achievement and ease the challenges associated with military life, including deployments and frequent transitions, DoDEA officials said.

Grant recipients serve about 190,000 students, with at least 37,000 students from military families, and cater to communities near more than 30 military installations.

"While we really want to enhance opportunities for military students, these grants also provide an opportunity to raise achievement for all students," Kathleen Facon, chief of DoDEA's educational partnership, told American Forces Press Service. "It's important to the school as a whole. The types of programs we're awarding help to promote services for all of the students."

DoDEA officials awarded grants through two avenues: competitive and invitational. The competitive grants were aimed at school districts servicing installations that are experiencing growth, whether due to factors such as base realignment and closure or global re-basing, Facon explained. For the invitational grants, DoDEA, in collaboration with military service partners, sought out school districts affected by deployments or with limited educational opportunities for military students.

Funding was based on the number of military-connected students at the school, Facon said, with grants ranging from $150,000 to $2.5 million.

The majority of the grants, 26 of the 32, are focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, projects, Facon said, reflecting a national interest in those areas. A wave of innovative technology-based ideas has swept the nation, she noted, including the use of smart phones to learn math and hand-held devices to enhance classroom learning.

"Students are learning at greater speeds and levels with the aid of technology," Facon said. "We have to make sure academic offerings are infused with technology."

As an added benefit, DoDEA officials are learning about cutting-edge innovations occurring across the nation, Facon noted. "It's a perfect opportunity to share best practices," she said.

Nearly all grants are focused on academic programs and achievement, but with the military students' needs in mind, Facon said. Military students who frequently transition into new schools may need extra help to adapt to a content area, she explained. And learning opportunities offered outside of the school day or in the summer can help to fill a gap when a deployed parent is away.

Several grants specifically address these needs. Schools on Fort Carson, Colo., for example, have funded a position to facilitate class placement and social integration for new military students, Facon said. And other programs offer after-school homework clubs and tutorial instruction.

Several programs are designed solely to tackle the unique social and emotional challenges military students face, Facon noted. She cited a grant awarded to a consortium of districts in San Diego as an example. The consortium is working with the University of Southern California on a program to enhance the school climate and make it more responsive to military-connected students.

"They're providing a cadre of master's of social work students to work with the school community, and also with military families and the students themselves," she explained.

DoDEA officials will track the programs to ensure an ongoing positive impact for military families, Facon said. It's tougher to track outcomes in social and emotional areas, she added, but officials expect to see student gains in areas such as test scores or participation in advancement placement courses.

The overall goal of the program, Facon said, is to aid military children, particularly since an estimated 90 percent of military students attend public schools.

"The grant program offers DoDEA an opportunity to share experiences in serving military students across the world," she said. "It's also an opportunity for us to learn from public schools. It makes sense to work together."

Since 2008, DoDEA has provided $97 million in grants to 76 public school districts and nearly 600 schools serving more than 100,000 military children.