By Caroline Green, KIPP THRIVE Academy teacher
By providing unique strategies and critical resources, teachers can help the children of military families succeed in school amid the constant changes in their lives.
We’ve often heard the phrase: “It takes a village to raise a child,” and for military families this couldn’t be truer. Over the years I’ve had a few military families in my classroom and have learned they have unique needs and experiences often borne out of having a loved one deployed – perhaps over a series of years, or having to move across states or even continents. These experiences can create new anxieties among family members, especially children who may be most affected. As a result, students can fall behind academically and struggle emotionally through the uncertainty in their lives. They may be affected due to multiple moves, worry about a parent’s safety or simply struggle to adapt to a new school environment.
Whatever the cause of concern may be, teachers can offer a support village that can bring patience, consistency and the communication needed to help military families cope through changes and challenges. Equipped with knowledge, strategies and critical resources, teachers can support the academic achievement of these students.
Within the KIPP NJ network, there are a number of military families who are provided supports and engaged in different ways. For teachers serving these families, the most fundamental piece is building a strong relationship with the family before a student sets foot on the school campus. Rather than wait until the first day of school to introduce students to the new school environment, the transition begins with home visits for every student during the summer months. This approach offers teachers an opportunity to get to know the family and observe the student’s life at home. While we do this with every student, it is especially important for our military families. By building this partnership early, parents and teachers establish an open line of communication that keeps both sides informed about changes in the home and school that may impact a child’s learning. In doing so, both ensure that the student is adequately supported and increase the potential for academic success. For example, Veronica Coston, a KIPP NJ military mom with a daughter in my class, often texts me to make me aware that her daughter may be having a particularly tough day and may need a little extra attention or a hug. In her own words she told me, “My daughter knows school is a safe place for her. She feels loved and because she knows she has a team of people supporting her, she trusts she can share her feeling or frustrations.”
There are a variety of ways in which teachers can create a nurturing and supportive environment for the children of military families. Here are a few other ideas:
- Learn about what life in a military family is like. Visit websites like the Military Child Education Coalition for resources and information.
- Communication with parents is vital to a student’s success. Request to be notified as soon as possible about an upcoming deployment. This can help support and understand unusual behaviors in the child.
- Offer to include the deployed parent’s email address in the classroom listserv so he/ she can stay engaged in classroom activities.
- Invite a military parent to speak with the class either before deployment or upon their return to help foster the connection between the class and the parent.
- Consider asking the deployed parent to be a “pen pal” for the class and share his/ her experiences and interesting items.
- Talk with the parent or guardian that’s at home about the best ways to maintain the connection with the deployed parent on an ongoing basis. Strategies may differ based on the child’s grade level.
- Create opportunities for the child to write letters to the deployed parent.
- Provide tutoring to help bridge the academic gap a student may encounter if they’re coming to you from another school.
- Consider having the student create a special folder of work to share with the deployed parent so that he/ she can feel engaged in their child’s school life.
- Let the child know that you understand they miss the deployed parent and assure him/her that they are safe.
- If they’re comfortable with it, leverage the military-connected child’s experiences as an asset in the classroom. They can share their knowledge of different cultures and experiences with their classmates.
There are many challenges faced by military families, but with patience, consistency – and above all a commitment to create a warm, and welcoming classroom and school community, teachers can provide a safe haven for all children during times of uncertainty and upheaval in their lives.
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