Military Children Face Greater Academic Challenges Due To Relocation And Emotional Stress
Michelle Hurley attended 12 different schools in six different states by the time she reached her high school graduation. She shifted between three different schools during her high school years alone.
"You just learn to deal with it," she says. "I was in the third grade before I did a full year of school without moving."
This is the reality children with parents in the military continue to face each year.
Hurley was on the move often, following her father, who was on active duty in the Army during her childhood. As he was reassigned, his faithful family followed, each time having to build new relationships and adjust to new surroundings.
Hurley remembers the frustration that came with each move and the fear that came with the midnight phone calls. Usually the wives of fellow military men called her mother for late-night support, relying on the solace of sharing their situation with others. She remembers how difficult it was when her father was gone, serving in the first Iraq war.
"You end up relying on your family to get you through," she recalls. "You just lean on each other."
According to the Department of Defense, there are currently over 2 million children of military parents in the United States. Military children typically attend between seven to nine schools before they graduate, moving approximately every two years. Each relocation brings with it the numerous problems associated with transitioning between education systems that may not translate. All these issues come amidst the emotional distress children face when a parent is absent for long periods of time, usually deployed to a dangerous destination.
Robert Blum, professor of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health elaborated in an interview with the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), about the difficulties children face when forced to live this lifestyle.
"Military families and military children are amongst the most transient of populations. It is not uncommon to see kids who have grown up in military families who have been in 5, 7 or 9 different schools by the end of their high school career. There is very high mobility. With high mobility come issues of engagement, disengagement and reengagement."
The Department of Defense found that children at different stages of development are affected in different ways.
Children ages 3 through 6 were found to exhibit behaviors of stress including regression, physical complaints and fears of separation.
Older children, who understand the reality and potential dangers associated with their parent's absence, exhibit signs of fear, irritability and sometimes aggression.
Teenagers were found to be rebellious and at higher risk of using drugs and engaging in early-age sexual behavior.
All of these emotional responses can have grave implications on academic performance.
In an effort to facilitate better understanding of the issues facing military children, the RAND Center for Military Health and Policy Research released a study entitled "Effects of Soldiers' Deployment on Children's Academic Performance and Behavioral Health."
The report found,
"Long and frequent deployments, with short dwell times in between, have placed stresses on Army children and families already challenged by frequent moves and parental absences. These stresses may present in the form of social, emotional, or behavioral problems among children at home and at school."
According to the study, the longer parental deployments were, the larger the impact on child academic achievement. Children who participated in the study were found to have lower achievement scores when their parents had deployed 19 months or more since 2001, across all academic subjects.
In light of these troubling findings, government bodies and nonprofit organizations alike are searching for solutions to help support school-age military children.
One government initiative that has resulted in recent years is the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, which was created in 2008.
The compact identified further issues affecting students,
"Military children often experience delayed enrollment, inappropriate grade-level placement, exclusion from educational programs and extracurricular activities, and delayed graduation. The compact establishes guidelines to better enable member states to address these issues."
Developed by the Council of State Governments, the compact seeks to align standards in education across the nation, including issues with enrollment, placement and attendance, and eligibility for extracurricular activities, to ease the difficulties associated with relocation and help a greater number of military children graduate on time.
According to AASA, 18 months after its creation, 26 states had signed onto the compact and, as a result, affecting 70 percent of school-aged military children.
Other programs have also been developed to assist these children academically. Student Online Achievement Resources (SOAR), provides online resources that allows students to sign on, take assessment tests based on state standards, and follow personalized tutorials. According to their website the program also allows parents to view their child's results from anywhere.
"SOAR is an innovative program that makes it easy for parents to play an active role in their children's education. SOAR is designed for military families, and is easily accessible worldwide."
Tutor.com has also offered their services to the military for free. Tutor.com is an online resource that provides access to professional tutors, day or night.
These programs are providing solutions to many of the problems military children face, however, experts say more needs to be done.
"More resources are available now than there have ever been, but we are dealing with the cumulative stress of a decade at war," says Joyce Wessel Raezer, the Executive Director of The National Military Family Association (NMFA).
"I believe what is going to be needed is sustained support," she elaborates. "Everyone across the country needs to realize the legacy of war is still there and it will stay with this nation for a very long time."
NMFA has created several programs, not only to assist families in the military, but also to provide resources for civilian members of the community who are needed to ensure these families are able to acclimate. "Finding Common Ground: A Toolkit for Communities Supporting Military Families," is a publication featured on their website that outlines several solutions civilians can take to lend a hand.
According to the publication, 70 percent of military families live in civilian communities. This is why it is essential for these neighborhoods to understand the needs of military families.
According to "Best Practices in Enhancing School Environment," a report commissioned by the Department of Defense, non-military schools should be better equipped to handle students with parents in the military, and experts believe this could be one of the most important factors in the success of these students.
"A positive school environment creates an optimal setting for teaching and learning. Research shows that school can be a stabilizing force for young people, both emotionally and academically, particularly when they are experiencing transition or crisis."
Michelle Hurley was lucky to be able to navigate the stressful life of the military child successfully. She reflects on her past, finding positivity in the struggles she faced. "It made me independent," she says, "and shaped the person I am today."
Though she was able to rely on the foundation her family provided, others may falter. Programs and resources are providing solutions, but civilian communities will make the key difference in assisting America's heroes and their families.
"Families are strong, but they are tired and stressed," Raezer says. "Communities need to learn how to help, because it takes all of us to support that military family."
This article is part of AOL and Huffington Post's Military Families Week series, an effort to put a spotlight on the issues affecting the lives of America's families who serve. Find more at jobs.aol.com/militaryfamilies and aol.com.