Know Your Military Students

School is often a stable, and safe place for children who experience periods of upheaval in their lives. As an educator, you spend an entire school day with your military students, yet you may know little about military life or how it affects military kids in the classroom. The unique aspects of military culture can be difficult to understand without prior military exposure. Learn from experienced teachers, counselors, and providers as they share advice on teaching youth from military families. They touch on topics such as; military culture, transitioning students, and the special challenges of working with students who are coping with a parent's deployment. You can also watch videos on the website to understand a child’s view of military life.

Identifying Your Military Students

In most cases, you’ll know who your military students are, but there are some situations when they may be harder to identify. Here are few scenarios to consider:

  • Parent was on active duty, but is no longer in the military,
  • Sibling or other loved one is in the military,
  • Child was not born when parent was on active duty, and parent is now in the Reserves,
  • Parent is either in the Reserves or National Guard and they don’t live near a military installation,

If Your Military Student is...

  • Showing stress reactions such as persistent headaches, stomachaches, or moodiness, 
  • Having trouble staying awake in class,
  • Gone for long periods of time or has unexplained absences from school,
  • Having a tough time concentrating or coping with common or routine issues,
  • Struggling with academic performance (drastic drop in grades, missing assignments, etc.)
  • Displaying uncharacteristic or aggressive behaviors, or acting out,
  • Showing high-levels of anxiety or worry.

Consider Asking…

Has your family moved recently? Military youth move an average of six to nine times between kindergarten and 12th grade. Youth Resources on Moving…

Do you have a parent or loved one who is deployed or preparing to deploy? Depending on the current world situation, military youth often experience frequent and lengthy separations from their parents or loved ones. Youth resources on deployment…

Do you have a parent or loved one who recently returned from a deployment? Despite being happy about their loved one’s return, many military families describe reintegration as the most difficult transition they face. Youth resources on reintegration…

Do you have a parent who is coping with a military-related injury or illness? Reintegration is even more challenging when the family is adjusting to, or caring for an injured parent. Youth resources on injury and illness 


Being a Military-Friendly Educator

Use aspects of military life as a teaching tool:

  • Focus a lesson on learning about the culture of an area that a student’s parent will deploy. Plan a lesson that emphasizes common and different cultural influences between different kids or teens — whether civilian or military, American or foreign. Invite a military parent to speak with your class or organization, either before deployment or upon their return.
  • Ask a deploying parent if to be a "pen pal" for your students. The parent might send postcards, maps, coins, menus, or other interesting articles from their foreign duty station. These items will allow your students to track the parent's trip around the world.
  • Celebrate different military holidays, but in particular Month of the Military Child (April), National Military Appreciation month (May), or Military Family Appreciation month (November). Develop an awareness of military life to provide support.

Develop an awareness of military life to provide support 

  • Ask about important dates that may affect your student (such as deployment departure dates, vacation dates, homecomings, etc.). Try to be flexible with due dates on assignments when these special circumstances arise.
  • Be neutral in your language referring to parents.  Many military children have alternate caregivers during a deployment. Consider using caregiver, guardian or dear family instead.
  • Work with military school liaisons or contacts to find out information to help answer a military child’s question about deployment. Normalize common reactions to separation; provide reassurance that feelings of loss, anger, frustration, and grief are natural when coping with a deployment.
  • For younger ages, include uniform-type clothing in your dress up center.
  • Discuss with the student or caregiver if you notice any concerning behavior. Let your school counselor and administrators know about a student with a deployed parent. However, be discrete; don't assume everyone knows about this student's situation. Initiate a conversation about the deployment with the remaining at-home parent/caregiver.
  • Be mindful of the difficult circumstances a caregiver is facing while coping with a deployment and offer support or assist in finding services that can be helpful.

Create a supportive environment for military students

  • Especially in areas of high deployments, plan a school-wide "Red, White and Blue Day" or "Thank Your Military Day" to reinforce the values of patriotism and service for your student body.
  • Invite everyone to wear red, white and blue for a day. Arrange to have an assembly on this day and invite speakers to talk about their military experiences or honor military parents by hosting a luncheon.
  • Use your school or organization's newsletter, blog or magazine to support service members.
  • Create a column that discusses military life and invite military teens (or school staff with military connections) to participate. Refer families in need of counseling services to various resources. Military OneSource offers non-medical counseling services (and much more) to service members and their families. The various service branches offer programs to parents who have special needs children. Ask your nearby installation or search online for the Service's "Exceptional Family Member Programs."
  • Provide support groups for your military students. For example, have brown bag or pizza lunches, or create after school groups.
  • Organize a "Traveler's Club" for students and staff to share their experiences.
  • Be aware of the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children that helps with transferring credits during relocations.

How to Cope Worksheets

Click on the images below to view a "pick a path" story about a tween or teen trying to cope with some common challenges military students face.

Image of a young mans face with a look of worry
A teen boy lays with his head on a yellow pillow looking sad and tired
teen boy with blue sweater with a confused look on his face, scratching his head
teen girl in yellow sweater with angry expression on her face

Helpful Resources

Department of Defense Education Activity: This school system is responsible for planning, directing, coordinating, and managing prekindergarten through 12th grade educational programs on behalf of the Defense Department. The system operates in 164 accredited schools in eight districts located in 11 foreign countries, seven states, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

School liaison officers: Each military branch of service has a school liaison program. Officers serve as the primary point of contact for school-related matters. They help with military families' school issues and help coordinate services with local school systems.

Military OneSource: Service members, their families, survivors and the entire military community have access to Military OneSource resources anywhere in the world at no cost. Military OneSource provides resources and non-medical counseling via a confidential call line 800-342-9647 – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, from anywhere in the world.

Sesame Street for Military Families: Sesame Street for Military Families is a free, bilingual (English and Spanish) website where families can find information and multimedia resources on the topics of military deployments, multiple deployments, homecomings, injuries, grief, and self-expression. The website has a section for providers to learn more about the military culture.

Military Child Education Coalition: This organization delivers programs, services, and professional development to meet the needs of military-connected students, parents, and professionals. Their programs include a Student2Student peer support program as well as educator trainings.

Revised: Thu, 05/02/2019 - 09:43

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