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Group Helps Educators Reach Out to 'Suddenly Military' Children

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 11, 2005 – Because of the high number of National Guardsmen and Reservists fighting the global war on terrorism, the Military Child Education Coalition has created a program to teach educators and others how to help "suddenly military" students of deployed citizen-soldiers.

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Mona Johnson, a participant in the Military Child Education Coalition's Supporting the Children and Families of Guard and Reserves Institute, tells the class about the project she participated in during a workshop in Atlanta recently. Johnson works in the Office of Learning and Teaching Support in the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Olympia, Wash. Photo by Rudi Williams
  

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The coalition established a workshop, called Supporting Children and Families of Guard and Reserve Institute. The institute is a professional development program to help schoolteachers, counselors, administrators and members of the Guard and Reserve and their families to reach out to the children of Guard and Reserve members.

"What we talk about in this course are issues and insights to the kinds of things that children will deal with when a parent deploys," said Joan Barrett, chair of MCEC's Guard and Reserve initiative. The coalition ran a session of the workshop before its recent conference in Atlanta.

"What moms and counselors are going to find, hopefully, are clues to resilience -- how to deal with their child as they experience the loss of the other parent to deployment and give them some tools on how to come back and be a stronger, more resilient child as a result of this," Barrett said.

Most workshop participants are volunteers or employees of Guard and Reserve family programs all over the United States, Barrett noted. Other attendees are school counselors who are "cognizant of the need to support the kids whose parents have been deployed," she said.

"I think this is a phenomenal opportunity for school personnel to become aware of what the issues and identifiers are for their children whose parents are deployed," Barrett noted.

The purpose of the institute is to identify key folks within each state's department of education, Barrett noted. "We try to focus on one state at a time and identify key educators, administrators and student-service personnel," she said. "Workshop participants will take back information and concepts to the personnel in their districts.

Guard and Reserve personnel are typically not clustered around military installations, Barrett said. "So, therefore, they don't have the same support services as active-duty personnel," she said. "They may not even be aware of what's available to their kids."

The workshop helps participants understand what children's reactions to a parent's deployment might be.

"Focus is the child," Barrett said, adding that, "there's an essential connection between what happens to that child and the parent that's left behind, or the caregiver that's not the parent -- the aunt, uncle, grandma." Walter Yourstone, the MCEC project director, pointed out that the nature of Guard and Reserve duty has fundamentally changed with the global war on terrorism. "We've gone from a mindset where Guard and Reserve duty meant one weekend a month, two weeks a year, to a dynamic where many guardsmen and reservists have been mobilized in the U.S., or deployed overseas to combat duty," said Yourstone, a retired Navy submarine captain from Kings Bay, Ga.

The He said deployments are happening more frequently, for longer periods of time, and they're into combat zones. "We're also seeing the cycle repeating itself where some servicemembers are on their second, possibly third, deployment in support of the global war on terrorism," Yourstone noted.

"What we're seeing is something that the active duty realizes -- the necessity to provide strong family-support structures," he continued. The workshop also discusses the types of challenges families and children face through the process of deployment and the emotional cycle of deployment. This includes preparation for return and the homecoming itself.

Organizers ask participants to identify folks who can sponsor support networks for these "suddenly military families."

Since all states are impacted by the global war on terrorism, Yourstone said, MCEC is trying to get as many states as possible involved.

He pointed out that the first such workshop was conducted in Texas in 2004 and a several workshops were piloted during the past school year, training 241 persons. "We sat down in November 2004 and tried to craft a concept of this institute," Yourstone noted. "

The coalition plans to institute training sessions in eight more states the rest of this year. They include Georgia, Florida, South and North Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, Texas and Maryland. The organization earmarked these states because of their large numbers of deployed guardsmen and reservists, said Larry Moehnke, MCEC's chief of staff. On average, he noted, each state has had at least 4,000 deployed at any given time. Ultimately, he added, MCEC hopes to bring the workshop to 25 states annually.

Officials said to go to the MCEC Web site for more information on the institute workshops.

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Related Sites:
Supporting the Children and Families of Guard and Reserves Institute
Military Child Education Coalition

Click photo for screen-resolution imageTracey Thompson-Johnson, a Guard youth-group coordinator in the Virgin Islands, gives an animated presentation during the Military Child Education Coalition's Supporting the Children and Families of Guard and Reserve's Institute workshop in Atlanta recently. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageWalt Yourstone, Military Child Education Coalition project director for Supporting the Children and Families of Guard and Reserves Institute, chats with Joan Barrett, chair of the coalition's Guard and Reserve initiative, during a recent workshop in Atlanta. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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