FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- Fairfax County Public School officials, and those from surrounding counties, gained insight into the lifestyle of military children at the Child, Youth & School Services 2nd annual School Support Services Workshop at the Fort Belvoir Officers Club April 12.
The workshop consisted of a presentation, by members of Mount Vernon High School's Student2Student program, which reflected the experiences of military children. There was also a presentation from the U.S. Army Recruiting Command on post-secondary planning for military children.
Breakout sessions covered topics ranging from understanding the military child, to post-traumatic stress disorder, to resiliency training.
"The whole premise behind the workshop is that there are other training opportunities for educators from military organizations, but they were always geared towards general issues," said Mary Jo Chapman, CYSS School Liaison Officer. "Our focus for the workshop is on Fort Belvoir and the National Capital region and what we can do to support our military Families and the unique issues they are forced to handle."
The Student2Student members talked about the feelings they experienced the first time their mother or father told them they were being deployed and that they feared for their parent's safety. They also shared how their neighbors and grandparents, in some cases, supported them during the deployment.
Having to endure multiple moves and making new friends was also discussed by the Student2Student members.
"We have to constantly make new friends and learn different areas," said Brandon Young, 17, Mount Vernon High School senior who has moved seven times. "We have to get used to how people act around us, because some people act different in different areas towards military kids."
Though the constant moving is tough, it builds resiliency as the children have to learn the new environment they are in and the attitudes of their new classmates, said Brittany Dixon, 16, Mount Vernon High School Sophomore who has moved nine times.
"I think they've shaped me into a stronger person," Dixon said of the multiple moves. You have to be able to adapt to a new environment, let your wall down and let people in, so you can make new friends quicker."
U.S. Army Recruiting Command, Potomac Recruiting Company, wanted to advise educators on how the Army has tightened its requirements for admission.
People looking to enlist who have a General Equivalency Diploma (G.E.D) now need at least one semester at a community college before they are allowed to go to boot camp. The semester must be a full 15-hour semester.
"The Army is downsizing, so we're trying to find the best qualified men and women to serve (using) their education level, fitness level and (those) who are morally and ethically qualified," said Capt. Rusty Mason, U.S. Army Recruiting Command, Potomac Recruiting Company commander. "From what I have found, the better they do in school, the more educated they are, the better they are going to be as a Soldier."
For high school freshmen considering a career in the Army, Mason's advice is to do well in school and stay out of legal trouble.
"Come see us when you are 16 and a half," Mason added while laughing.
Chapman and Wendy Strycula mediated the Understanding the Military Child session. They discussed how some military children can have an elevated emotional reaction to situations because of multiple moves or deployments by their parents, and also how those same situations can cause a military child to mature faster and become resilient at a younger age.
"Their experiences are much broader," Strycula said. "Their view is much broader. They can understand differences in other people much better because they've been exposed to those differences."
Strycula shared how her Family have moved 13 times and how she and her husband tried to keep every move fun and positive for their children.
"I think our kids see the moves we've had as an adventure; not necessarily something they dreaded." Strycula said. "We've had mostly positive experiences. I think our kids will say they love being Army kids."
A better understanding of the challenges a military child faces, and the emotions that come with those experiences, can allow educators to have a better relationship with the child and help them to do well in school. Chapman hopes that is the affect the workshop has.
"There are a lot of positive attributes that military kids have. I think recognizing that there are going to be unique challenges they face will help educators relate to them better," Chapman said. "We want the educators to understand those challenges and know where the Families are coming from, so the children can do better in school."