THE Army is working to ease the challenges of military children who move, on average, three times more often than their non-military peers and attend up to nine schools before graduating.
Army School Support Services aims to remove many of the hurdles these students face, and helps fulfill the Army Family Covenant"the service’s promise to provide Army Families with a quality of life commensurate with their service and sacrifice.
To deliver this promise, School Support Services provides school liaison officers with strong education backgrounds and experience to each Army installation. These liaisons offer support to garrison commanders, Army Families and school districts.
Of about 640,000 Army school-age children, one in seven has special needs. Each school district is different, as are its procedures and regulations. Therefore, every time a child relocates, the differences may pose obstacles for Families.
About a decade ago, the Army contracted with the Military Child Education Coalition to study the impact of school transitions on students and Families. That research"the Secondary Education Transition Study"illustrated a need for predictability and support in areas such as transfer of records, systems to ease student transition during the first two weeks they are in a new school, access to extracurricular activities and graduation requirements.
As a result of the study, nine school districts collaborated and developed a memorandum of agreement in 2001, indicating they would work together to support military transitioning students and provide predictability for Families. Since then, about 400 school districts have signed the agreement.
Army school liaison officers played a major role in this increase. They are responsible for approaching all school districts within 50 miles of their garrisons that have more than 250 military students enrolled. Many have exceeded that requirement by also enlisting the cooperation of school districts within that 50-mile radius with fewer military students.
“Through collaboration and partnerships with non-profit organizations and school districts, our Families have grown to count on innovative transition and support programs,” said Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commanding general of the Installation Management Command and the assistant chief of staff for Installation Management. “Senior commanders stand ready and committed to support schools and communities as active partners in order to facilitate implementation of the needed programs.
“The school liaison program…develops and nurtures valuable educational partnerships within the Army and civilian communities. School liaison officers work to ensure our students have access to transition services that will provide a smooth takeoff and a soft landing,” Lynch added.
As the critical link between a Family, the school district and the garrison, each school liaison officer provides six core services to assist Army Families: school transition services, deployment support, command-school-community communication, home-school linkage and support, partnerships in education/Adopt a School and post-secondary preparation.
“(There are) websites linking schools to garrisons, active Adopt-A-School and mentoring programs, workshops to facilitate community, school and garrison understanding, support through the utilization and placement of military Family life consultants, assistance for all students"those in regular class, in advanced classes, with special needs and those who are being home-schooled,” Lynch said.
During the 10 years since the original SETS study, the Army has led by example, Lynch said.
“We even put it in writing…the Army Family Covenant promises support with standardized programs, quality health care and housing, along with excellent support of all youth services for our Soldiers and Families.”
Although building learning environments that support students during school transitions continues to be an essential component of School Support Services, academic and personal management skills are also critical elements to ensure positive student outcomes in the 21st century, he added.
It’s this level of support that allows Soldiers to focus on their mission and be prepared for short-notice calls to duty around the world. Since 2001, about 2 million children have experienced parental deployment, including 570,000 with parents serving in all Army components.
The Army School Support Services Strategic Plan was developed to address overarching elements"learning environment, academic skills, and personal management skills"that combined, produce a solid support system for Army kids.
The plan details Child, Youth and School Services’ commitment to: standardized Army School Support Services for all Army Families; advocacy for quality education for Army children and youth; promotion of programs and services to support Army Families and stakeholders during all transitions, deployments, and Army transformation; and development of a strategic marketing plan for Army School Support Services.
The plan was developed by an interdisciplinary group of professionals from the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command; Army Community Service; the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs; the Soldier Family Readiness Division at the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management; the Defense Education Agency; the Departments of Education and Agriculture; and Education representatives from school districts and nonprofits nationwide.
“This strategy is an incorporation of research-based goals established as a result of current issues and trends in education,” Lynch said. “It has established strategies for measuring academic, social and emotional support for Army children, pre-kindergarten to 20 years old.
“Since we are talking about research, we are well on their way to completing the second phase of the original research study, called Educating the Military Child in the 21st Century,” Lynch continued. “Academic excellence, program access, and related support services for 700,000 Army-connected, school-age children have been investigated in this two-year study.”
The components of the research are: updating secondary education, the implications of home-schooling choices for Army Families and the education-related effects of multiple deployments on school-age children.
“I can’t wait to see what we learn from these results,” Lynch said. “These last (10) years were just the start. We continue to be committed to learning and leading as we begin to fully comprehend the impact of the military lifestyle on military children. The continued research and the School Support Services Strategic Plan will assure that the Army will be the driving force for student success.”