5 ways to support military-connected students

Leaders open transition centers, appoint student mentors and offer specialized counseling
By: | July 23, 2019
At Virginia Beach City Public Schools, leaders hold regular celebrations to recognize military-connected students. Here, students wear purple to honor the Month of the Military Child.At Virginia Beach City Public Schools, leaders hold regular celebrations to recognize military-connected students. Here, students wear purple to honor the Month of the Military Child.

Educators in districts not located near major military bases may not always know that they have military-connected students whose parents serve in the armed forces.

Military-connected students—compared with civilian classmates—are at a moderately higher risk for suicide, substance abuse and bullying, according to a University of Southern California survey of middle and high school students in that state.

The numbers are even higher for military-connected students whose parents have been deployed to a combat zone.

“It’s what do you do when they transition in, what do you do when they’re in your district, and what do you do when they transition out,” says Aaron C. Spence, superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools, where several nearby military installations mean that nearly a third of district students are connected to the armed forces.

1. Student ambassadors help military-connected students

Military-connected students typically change schools every two to three years. Some districts have set up transition centers to support children and their families as they adjust, says Eileen Huck, government relations deputy director for the National Military Family Association, an advocacy organization.

Families can learn about the schools, housing and community resources at these centers. Huck suggests that district leaders also appoint transition coordinators to manage these programs.

Educators in Virginia Beach and similar districts tap existing students to act as ambassadors, helping new students to acclimate. In that district’s Anchors for Life program, elementary school students learn leadership skills as they help military-connected children orient themselves, make friends and cope with anxiety. The district is expanding the program to its middle schools.

Also, all the Virginia Beach principals, counselors and registration staff receive training on supporting military students, Spence says.

2. Celebrations support SEL

Behavioral policies, such as restorative justice, can help military children avoid at-risk behaviors, says Louis Fletcher, director of culture and services at School District 49 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where about a quarter of the students have military connections.

“Students can run into situations where, for example, something is not a problem in Georgia, but they move to Colorado and they’re getting in trouble for it,” says Fletcher, a retired U.S Air Force officer who also serves as the district’s military liaison.

The district employs a pair of social workers, known as military family life consultants, who focus on the social-emotional needs of military families. A consultant could, for example, send students for more comprehensive counseling if they are struggling to cope with having a parent who has been deployed to a combat zone or wounded.


Read more: Districts of Distinction 2019 — Project Safe and Sound


In Steilacoom Historical School District No. 1, located south of Seattle, nearly 40% of the students have military connections. Through a partnership with the massive Joint Base Lewis-McChord, administrators added preventative mental health care and other programs to keep students on track academically and psychologically.

School-based medical clinics, staffed by military personnel, help students avoid missing school for visits to doctors.

At Virginia Beach City Public Schools, leaders hold regular celebrations to recognize military students. The district sponsors an annual Art of the Military Child exhibit, at which works created by military students and their friends are displayed at a local mall.

3. Classroom consistency can be crucial

The Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission—which now comprises all 50 states and the District of Columbia—outlines student-transfer procedures, such as the quick transmission of transcripts.

Virginia Beach City Public Schools sponsors an annual Art of the Military Child exhibit, at which works created by military students and their friends are displayed at a local mall.

Virginia Beach City Public Schools sponsors an annual Art of the Military Child exhibit, at which works created by military students and their friends are displayed at a local mall.

It also encourages flexibility around academics. For instance, a school might create an extra spot in an AP class for a new student. A youngster learning a language that’s not offered in their new district could be allowed to study the language online. And students who’ve relocated just before completing high school could be held to the graduation requirements of their previous district.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work on the importance of consistent academic standards from state to state,” says Huck, of the National Military Family Association. “It has gotten better, but it’s still an issue when families move from a Common Core state to a non-Common Core state, or where math standards are very different.”

The bases themselves can serve as classrooms. All Virginia Beach fifth-graders tour the nearby Naval Air Station Oceana, which Spence calls “the world’s largest outdoor STEM lab.”

4. Save some spots on the team

Schools should also be ready to accommodate students in extracurricular activities by reserving a few spots on teams and in musical ensembles and clubs. Coaches have, for example, allowed students who miss spring tryouts to try out in the summer for fall sports. Others have allowed cheerleaders to try out via FaceTime, Skype or video.

“What we’re asking for is not special privileges but to level the playing field,” Huck says.

5. Tackle the funding issues

Funding has always been a major issue, particularly in districts that comprise large military installations that generate no local property tax revenue to fund schools.

Administrators in heavily military-impacted districts are generally aware of funding through federal and other programs, but smaller school district leaders should research what money might be available.

District leaders, for example, might explore Department of Defense Education Activity grants, which have funded the Steilacoom district’s Safe and Sound Project, a tiered system for social-emotional interventions. Two full-time social workers provide basic counseling to all students and offer more intensive interventions to students who need them.

More resources for military-connected students


Read the full original story: How schools are making room for the military