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Schools strive to support the unique needs of military children

There are approximately a million children of active duty military in the U.S. Most attend public school, move six to nine times before finishing high school and must cope with a parent being absent for extended periods of time. Schools don't always know how to offer support to these children, but new initiatives are trying to change that. Special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There are more than one million children whose parents are on active military duty in the U.S., most of whom attend public schools. They average six to nine moves before the end of high school.

    It's also common to have a parent gone for long periods of time. Some schools don't know who these children are or how to support them, but that is starting to change.

    Kavitha Cardoza with our partner Education Week has our weekly segment Making the Grade.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Children from Shelton Park Elementary School have been working with a nearby military installation on an oyster restoration project. Many are military children. They have spent months measuring and graphing their results.

    Base Commander Joey Frantzen says these educational partnerships are a win-win. Oysters help filter the water his troops train in and:

  • Joey Frantzen:

    The kids get the opportunity to learn about oysters, and it really helps the base.

    More important, he says, these interactions help school staff understand some of the challenges military children face.

  • Joey Frantzen:

    At one point, my boys had been in five different schools in like a two-and-a-half year period. And so having that community and a community and a school system that understands that dynamic really allows those children to be able to come in, so that they aren't lost.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Frantzen says knowing their kids are supported helps service members concentrate on their jobs and stay in the military. But because, nationally, less than 1 percent of the U.S. population serves, these children's challenges often go unnoticed.

    Teacher Cynthia Dufour says her military students bring different perspectives to class discussions.

  • Cynthia Dufour:

    They just are so used to going new places, so the curiosity is kind of ingrained in them.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    But for these children who are just 10, moving doesn't always feel positive.

  • Student:

    I started in Italy, and then I moved to New York, and then I moved to Virginia.

  • Student:

    I always make friends, and then I have to leave.

  • Student:

    Military children, they move and move and move, and that doesn't really make me happy at all.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Frequent transitions can also mean an inconsistent and uneven education.

    Eileen Huck with the National Military Family Association says that's because public schools vary so much. Some have many military children.

  • Eileen Huck:

    They set up welcome centers for families. Garrison commanders are members of the school board.

    But we also have school districts that have just a few military-connected kids, and it can be more difficult for teachers and school personnel in those situations to recognize the needs of those kids.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    A federal report found there are no national public data on military dependent students' academic progress, attendance, or long-term outcomes, such as college attendance or workplace readiness.

    Advocates hope having a military identifier on enrollment forms will help track how well public schools are meeting these students' needs.

  • Aaron Spence:

    We're one of the largest military-connected school divisions in the country.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Aaron Spence is superintendent of the Virginia Beach City Public School District. Almost a third of the approximately 70,000 students here are military children. Educating them can be challenging.

  • Aaron Spence:

    Figuring out their transcripts, what are the classes that they may have taken elsewhere that we don't offer here. And we have a different curriculum in Virginia than much of the country.

    And so students might come in, and their parents will want to know, well, if my child is in third-grade math, are they learning the same thing that they were learning when they were in third-grade math in California?

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Amanda Yoder is a school counselor and a Navy combat veteran. She's hired by the district specifically to support military students. Yoder says it's tough always being the new kid.

  • Amanda Yoder:

    So the biggest thing that we hear is, who am I going to eat lunch with? They're worried about making friends. Is the sports team already full when they arrive?

    It's really important that we get those who haven't serviced and don't have a connection involved and trained to understand terms and emotions.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Virginia Beach schools have several programs to celebrate these children, art displays, military partnerships, outings to bases, and a day when everyone wears purple.

  • Tara Brewer:

    It's their life. It's what they experience. So we want to recognize that.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Principal Tara Brewer loves the diversity and experiences her military students bring. But, as a school administrator, it also means frequent testing and re-teaching lessons, because students arrive in the middle of the year.

    Other times, it means getting creative. For example, one of her students was taking standardized tests when her father was deployed in the Middle East.

  • Tara Brewer:

    So, every morning, we have either set up a situation where he can Skype her, wish her luck on testing, or like, when she gets here, the teacher will text him, and he will call.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Another challenge is having parents deploy, often to war zones. That can lead to children getting upset or acting out in school. Some schools in Virginia Beach have after-school clubs where civilian children can support their classmates.

  • Student:

    My friend in the military moved away, and his dad was deployed, so, sometimes, he would cry.

  • Student:

    This is a with you all the way kit and this is dealing with deployment.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Research shows, when schools offer an understanding environment, it can have a protective effect.

  • Woman:

    You need to have on a collared shirt with either a tie or bow tie.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    This year was especially difficult for 17-year-old Jazmine Jewell. She had to move from California to Virginia for her senior year.

  • Jazmine Jewell:

    This graduation isn't going to be super important to me, because I'm happy to get my diploma, I'm finally done, but I'm not graduating with my friends.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Both Jazmine's parents served in the Navy, and she's moved seven times already. But she says it's also taught her important life lessons.

  • Jazmine Jewell:

    Military kids are more appreciative of the things that they have and the friends that they make. Every moment counts. You take a lot of things to heart.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    And despite the challenges of being a military child, after graduation, Jazmine joined the Navy, and she is looking forward to traveling the world.

  • Man:

    Jazmine Kaitlyn: Jewell.

  • Jazmine Jewell:

    I want to be able to experience all the thing that my mom got to experience. She has told me so many different adventures that she's gotten to go on, all the beautiful different cultures she gotten to see. And that's what I really want to do.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    For the "PBS NewsHour" and Education Week, I'm Kavitha Cardoza in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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