Miltary Schoolkids Face Unique Brand of Stress
> 12/29/2006 11:46:35 AM

One can imagine the difficulties experienced by a young child going through repeated periods without any direct physical or visual contact with a parent. But for many American children attending one of the 224 public schools located on military bases throughout our country and the world, this is just the case. With an increasing number of soldiers serving extended tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, children may have only a few precious weeks with one or both parents between periods of active service. The teachers in these schools, most of whom have served or are currently serving in some military capacity, must often attempt to alleviate the stresses brought on by such absences. Informal therapy and lessons in coping are essential for these kids. Such assistance can come in the form of a gentle lecture or a simple hug. But one cannot go too far in assuring children that their missing family members will be ok because of the ever-present possibility of service-related fatalities. 

The program began in the wake of WWII, and students at these schools, on average, actually outperform the general population. One of the main concerns raised by the schools upon their creation was that of black servicemen who disliked the idea of sending their children to segregated schools. As of today, they are more diverse than most American schools and show smaller gaps in achievement between the races. Observers claim that the main strength of these schools is the tight-knit sense of community they foster. Even in an area the size of Georgia's Fort Benning, one of the largest miltary-affiliated districts in the United States serving more than three thousand students in seven schools, children who share the experience of living on the base and having parents in the service show a stronger attachment to each other and their teachers. The schools also serve military personnel by offering their kids a more carefully structured environment than what they might get in a standard public school.

With current military conflict escalating, and many soldiers facing multiple re-deployments, the issue of children growing accustomed to extended absences is particularly important. The number of single parents with children enrolled at base schools has also increased in recent years, leaving more kids without any parental supervision. In order to combat the difficulty of living without one or both parents, children are encouraged to communicate with their families with tapes, letters or videos. Luckily, the internet has made it easier for kids to get in touch with their parents. And military children are just like their public school peers in many ways. Distractions such as field trips and games are essential to keep them from worrying constantly about the safety of their parents. As one base school principle says:

“Our biggest thing is making the kids feel that school is a constant,that it’s a safe place, a home. You don’t want to say, ‘Everything’s always going to be allright,’ because you don’t want to give false assurance. But we do wantthe kids to know that Mom or Dad know their job. They’re prepared. Andeverybody will do their best to see them come home.”

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