Miltary Schoolkids Face Unique Brand of Stress
> 12/29/2006 12:44:47 PM

One can imagine the difficulties experienced by a young childgoing through repeated periods without any direct physical or visualcontact with a parent. But for many American children attending one ofthe 224 public schools located on military basesthroughout our country and the world, this is just the case. With anincreasing number of soldiers serving extended tours of duty in Iraqand Afghanistan, children may have only a few precious weeks with oneor both parents between periods of active service. The teachers inthese schools, most of whom have served or are currently serving insome military capacity, must often attempt to alleviate the stressesbrought on by such absences. Informal therapy and lessons in coping areessential for these kids. Such assistance can come in the form of agentle lecture or a simple hug. But one cannot go too far in assuringchildren that their missing family members will be ok because of theever-present possibility of service-related fatalities. 

Theprogram began in the wake of WWII, and students at these schools, onaverage, actually outperform the general population. One of the mainconcerns raised by the schools upon their creation was that of blackservicemen who disliked the idea of sending their children tosegregated schools. As of today, they are more diverse than mostAmerican schools and show smaller gaps in achievement between theraces. 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 Statesserving more than three thousand students in seven schools, childrenwho share the experience of living on the base and having parents inthe service show a stronger attachment to each other and theirteachers. The schools also serve military personnel by offering theirkids a more carefully structured environment than what they might getin a standard public school.

With current military conflict escalating, and many soldiers facing multiple re-deployments, the issue of children growing accustomed to extended absencesis particularly important. The number of single parents with childrenenrolled at base schools has also increased in recent years, leavingmore kids without any parental supervision. In order to combat thedifficulty of living without one or both parents, children areencouraged to communicate with their families with tapes, letters orvideos. Luckily, the internet has made it easier for kids to get intouch with their parents. And military children are just like theirpublic school peers in many ways. Distractions such as field trips andgames are essential to keep them from worrying constantly about thesafety 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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