WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 24, 2012) -- Despite budget cuts, the Department of Defense Education Activity awarded almost $49 million in grants earlier this month to public schools that teach military children.

DoDEA Director Marilee Fitzgerald said she's not just concerned about the 86,000 children who attend her school system, mostly overseas, but also about nearly a million military children who attend U.S. public schools. She discussed the DoDEA Educational Partnership grants Wednesday morning at the Family IV Forum during the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.

"I will use every resource I can to shape the battlefield for your children," Fitzgerald said, referring to providing the best education possible for all military students.

This year, partnership grants were awarded to 38 public school districts, many near major military installations. In four years, the grants have provided support to nearly 1,200 schools serving military-connected students.

Grants to a consortium of eight school districts in the San Diego area were awarded specifically to provide support regarding the emotional trauma of students who transfer to different schools and how the deployment of parents can affect students. The University of Southern California is involved in that study, Fitzgerald said.

The San Diego project is providing "scientifically sound, practical and eye-opening ideas" to help military children feel welcome and comfortable in new schools, Fitzgerald said.

Six school districts funded by the partnership grants are beginning a Strategic Foreign Languages Expansion Program to improve the teaching of language to more students.

Many of the schools funded by the partnership grants focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, projects. Those subjects, in high demand by the military, are an area in which America has fallen behind, Fitzgerald said.

In fact, high school educations overall are falling off in this country, Fitzgerald said. While the United States was at one time a world leader in the percentage of teenagers graduating high school, Fitzgerald said the nation is now ranked 21st. The U.S. now falls behind countries such as Slovenia and the Czech Republic, she said.
"Fitzgerald also discussed the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children which strives to make transition easier for the children of military families so that they are afforded the same opportunities for educational success as other children. Forty-three states have signed the compact, DoDEA officials said.

But not all schools have implemented the standards yet, Fitzgerald said. "Public schools are not changing fast enough," she emphasized.

The second half of the forum featured a panel that included Margie Ferriter of the Installation Management Command, Dorinda Silver Williams of the "Zero to Three" Military Family Projects, Lynn Chwatsky of Sesame Workshop and Dr. Mary Keller, president and CEO of the Military Child Education Coalition.

Keller described the Student 2 Student program, or S2S, in which students volunteer to sponsor military kids transferring into their school. S2S now has 315 high schools participating in the program and Junior S2S has about 300 middle schools taking part, Keller said.

She said the S2S program is fostering a "campus culture of 100-percent acceptance."

"We want kids to thrive and grow," she said.

The forum also included a presentation by Backpack Journalists, military teens who wrote news articles on the AUSA meeting presentations. The backpack journalists discussed projects that included photography, broadcasting, poetry, school newspapers and more. Their presentation concluded with a video several produced about post-traumatic stress and resilience.