Stepping Up To Support Military Families

October 17, 2012

In keeping with its 40-year history of serving military service members and their families, Saint Leo is among the first universities to commit to a national program focused on serving the educational needs of military children.

Called “Operation Educate the Educators,” the program is part of the nationwide “Joining Forces” initiative started by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, aimed at strengthening the support veterans and military families receive from all sectors of society.

A White House announcement released earlier this month stated that more than 100 colleges and universities have now signed on to “Operation Educate the Educators.” Developed by the Military Children Education Coalition (MCEC) and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), the program will help prepare educators to lead classrooms and develop school cultures that are more responsive to the social, emotional and academic needs of children in military families.

Universities, such as Saint Leo, have agreed to implement the initiative’s guiding principles in their preparation programs – and to partner with Pre-K 12 schools to ensure future educators have the knowledge and skills necessary to meet the needs of military-connected children.

The children of active military parents face unique challenges. A child with a parent in the military generally moves six to nine times during their Pre-K-12 years – three times more often than students in the civilian population. With each transition, military-connected children face a variety of social, emotional, and academic challenges, in addition to adjusting to new schools, new surroundings, and new friends.

There are currently 2 million military-connected children in America, with 80 percent currently attending Pre-K-12 public schools. Every school district in the country has military-connected students.

“We are grateful to those institutions that have made a serious commitment to prepare educators to serve military children,” said MCEC President Mary Keller. “Supportive educators who are aware of the specific challenges faced by military children will make a significant difference in the lives of our nation's military families.”

School of Education and Social Services Broadens Outreach

According to Carol Walker, dean of the School of Education and Social Services at Saint Leo, the school traditionally has focused on special populations in its pre-service teacher training and was eager to commit to “Operation Educate the Educators.’ The school plans to support the guiding principles of the initiative by reaching out to public school district personnel and developing workshops to train current and future teachers to successfully navigate the learning obstacles faced by military-connected students.

To coincide with the Saint Leo University’s 40th anniversary of working with the military, Walker said the school has formed a committee with representatives from each of its four departments – Education, Social Work, Human Services, and Criminal Justice – to implement additional ways to support military families.

“All our faculty members are experienced service professionals,” said Walker. “Given Saint Leo’s proud heritage of serving military service members, veterans, and their families, we saw this as an opportunity to continue to broaden our outreach.”

For example, committee members at Education Centers in Norfolk, Va. and Jacksonville and Orange Park, Fla. plan to work with local agencies and school districts to assess educational needs of military-connected students and determine the resources currently available to support families. They also will develop ways to prepare military students to return to the classroom.

At University Campus, faculty members will involve the social work and criminal justice communities on campus to make workshops, seminars, and other resources available. Beginning this month, for example, a representative from the local veterans’ center will be on campus regularly to offer comprehensive services to combat veterans and their families.

“Serving the community in which we live is an integral part of Saint Leo’s mission and values,” said Walker. “We are honored and excited to have this opportunity to strengthen our commitment and service to military families.”