Defense Department senior leaders met with educators to answer questions and discuss the importance of education for military children during the 17th Military Child Education Coalition National Training Seminar here today.
Questions ranged from budget cuts to resiliency. All of the commanders said their respective service branches were protecting the military child services from the budget cuts.
Balancing Budget and Families
“The chief of naval operations has said we’re not going to touch the child development centers or our youth programs; those are fenced,” said Navy Vice Adm. Dixon R. Smith, commander of Navy Installation Command. “We’re protecting those, and they’re funded because we understand the importance of taking care of our children and families.”
“Family is part of readiness, and we have to have that balance between mission, family and our community,” said Army Lt. Gen. David D. Halverson, commander of the Army’s Installation Management Command. “Funding is non-negotiable. It’s really important that we commit to that family readiness.”
Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel D. Cox, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services for the Air Force, said another key to success is the partnership with the local community.
“The budget is tight, and we’ll do the funding the best way we can but the partnership piece is really important,” he said.
“Having partnerships with the local communities and with the local school boards is important,” Cox said. “Our new commanders who are coming in, whether it’s squadron commanders or wing commanders, we try to highlight to them is to make sure they are integrated with the school board and the local community, that’s really important for us to do that.”
Smith said one of the biggest challenges military children face is integration into new communities.
Military Child Education Coalition offers Student 2 Student, he said, a student-led welcome program, as well as connection rooms at many schools that help students to integrate quickly so they can focus on academics.
As his own family moved to his various assignments, Cox said it came down to three things: stability, love and integration with the community.
“They knew we loved them, no matter what they wanted to do, and there was integration outside the family, whether it was in school or extracurricular activities, so they were involved and engaged,” he said.
Halverson moved his two daughters to 12 different schools. They became involved in science, technology, engineering and math programs and are now electrical and mechanical engineers.
“You want to get your kids integrated and back to normal as soon as possible so they feel comfortable and have confidence in themselves,” he said. He also stressed the importance of resiliency and that the Army is now sharing their Master Resiliency Training program with the families of service members.
Cox was a military child, and his own two children attended nine different schools and three different high schools.
“We had our kids participate in team sports or the band or something that has more than one person,” he said, “so that when they went to a new school and it’s time to go to the cafeteria, they had someone they could sit at the table with.”
Smith said another challenge for military children is the transfer of educational credits from state to state. He said that thanks to the efforts of MCEC and organizations like it, the Military Interstate Children’s Compact has 15 states on board.
The compact aims to reduce the educational and emotional issues encountered when the children of military personnel are required to transfer from schools in one state to another.
Smith noted that 17 states now have the military student identifier on their enrollment form, which is a voluntary self-identification of the children of active duty, National Guard, or reserve members to monitor educational success.
“We need to continue to push that need because once we have that, we can track those students, and they can get through school easier and not have to repeat classes just to be able to meet that state’s graduation credentials,” he said.
Military Children as Service Members
Danny G.I. Pummill, principal deputy undersecretary for benefits for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ veterans benefits administration, was a military child and said he appreciates what the MCEC does for military children.
“I can’t put the importance of what MCEC does into words, what they’ve done over the years and the impact that they’ve had,” said Pummill, who is also the Military Child Education Coalition national advisor.
“We’re an all-volunteer force. Being a military child is hard. Going to school as a military child is hard,” he said. “If you look at the statistics, these kids are our future officers; they’re our future [noncommissioned officers]. Most of them join the military. If we can’t make sure that those children are taken care of and that they have a better than average chance in society, that’s going to be one of the things that’s going to cause our all-volunteer force to go away.”
Smith noted that the Navy has a partnership with 2,100 schools across the country for science, technology, engineering and math programs.
“The more that we can get that into the elementary schools and the middle schools, the high schools, the better off we’re going to be, not only as a Navy, not only as a service, but ... as a country down the road,” he said.
Cox said the focus could be more on cyber training in middle schools.
All of the commanders advised the military children and non-military children in attendance to work hard, set goals, stay in school and to remember that education is important.