By Lisa Daniel, American Forces Press ServiceOctober 4, 2012
FAIRFAX, Va. (Oct. 3, 2012) -- More than 100 colleges and universities have signed on to a White House initiative to prepare educators for the unique needs of their military-connected students, Jill Biden announced here, today.
Biden, wife of the vice president, made the announcement at George Mason University here as part of the latest accomplishment of the "Joining Forces" campaign she began in April 2010 with First Lady Michelle Obama to rally Americans to support the health, education and employment needs of military families.
Biden noted that she is a "military mom" of a National Guard Soldier and a community college teacher. In those roles and as second lady, she said, "I have heard over and over from military families just how important it is that school be a supportive environment for children."
Military children change school systems, on average, six to nine times, Biden said.
"Through each transition, they are faced with leaving their friends and adjusting to new schools and new surroundings, all of which can affect a student's opportunity to achieve academic success," she said. "As a teacher, this issue is particularly close to my heart."
Through the initiative, Biden said, all teachers can make an impact on military children.
"I know future educators across the country will be better prepared to make a difference in the life of a military child," she said.
The initiative is co-sponsored by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the Military Child Education Coalition.
As part of the initiative, participating colleges and universities, including George Mason, implement guiding principles in their preparation programs and partner with schools that serve Kindergarten through Grade 12 students to ensure future educators have the knowledge and skills to meet the needs of military-connected students.
Biden was joined by Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff, who said he understands the challenges faced by military families -- he moved his wife and children 24 times during his 36-year military career, causing his son and daughter to change schools during each year of high school.
Today, Odierno said, his children are successful adults in large part because of their military upbringing, the resilience it adds, and the teachers who took an interest in them.
"They are successful because there happened to be someone who wanted to nurture their abilities," Odierno said.
The key to the nomadic lifestyle of military children, the general said, is that "their experiences should be rich and diverse in schools."
The initiative, called "Operation Educate the Educators," will help ensure positive experiences for military children, 80 percent of whom attend public schools, Odierno said. He added that "the social piece is perhaps the most important piece" to a child frequently changing schools.
The Army also hosts several programs to ensure the school success of military children, including tutoring programs and placing military liaison officers in all schools that serve Army families, Odierno said.
He added that the military's interest in educating service members' children goes back to at least 1866 when the Army established schools on installations for solders' children -- 62 years before the United States adopted compulsory education for children.
Odierno introduced Felicity and Abigail Horan, twins of Lt. Col. Dave Horan, who recently moved to the Fairfax area, to explain to teachers in the audience about their military lifestyle. Now in the seventh grade, the girls are attending their fifth school, brought on by eight military relocations, Felicity explained. She told of "always saying goodbye" to friends and that their father missed five of their birthdays.
But, Felicity said, "Don't feel sorry for us. We are stronger because of our experiences."
Some teachers have made a difference in their lives, Felicity said, singling out her third-grade teacher in Florida who "always asked how my dad was doing" when he was deployed.
"Miss Beck just knew the right things to say at the right time," she said. "I thought she had a gift from God."
Patty Shinseki, a leader in MCEC and wife of retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, also spoke at the event. Like Odierno, Shinseki said her children changed schools many times during the family's 38 years of service, and "it provided opportunities for new connections and personal growth."
Operation Educate the Educators, she said, is another way to ensure that military children are better off for their families' service. The operation, she told military children in the audience, "aims to serve you -- you who shoulder the sacrifices of serving right along with your parents, by ensuring that our educators know and understand the intricacies of life in the military and will ensure that your transitions are smoother."