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Survey to benefit military children

Published: 10:56AM January 31st, 2013

Joint Base Lewis-McChord, School Liaison Office is seeking military families and military students — seeking where they attend schools, that is.

The School Liaison Office at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is partnering with local school districts to conduct a survey that asks military members, civilians and contractors who work at JBLM to provide data about where their children attend school.

“Our office works very closely with school districts on working with military families with students in their districts to ‘re-look’ their policies and procedures as they apply to military related children,” said Norma Martinez-Melo, director of JBLM Youth Education Support Services. “This can be a challenge as most schools are not aware that parents are serving in the military or work for the military.”

Schools pride themselves in treating all students equally, Martinez-Melo said, but military parents sometimes suspect that is not always the case. Challenges unique to military life can make it difficult to treat all students equally.

The Army is asking installation school liaison officers what schools service members’ children are attending. For an installation JBLM’s size, the survey information provides a good base point to ensure those schools are providing enrichment programs, academic achievement and emotional support programs.

“We have 307 schools in more than 22 school districts where military-related children attend,” Martinez-Melo said, “but we have no way to know exactly how many children are in each school.”

Schools have no tool to find military children if parents or children don’t identify themselves. Only one form asks whether a family is active duty. Reservists and National Guard Soldiers use state forms, so there is no easy way to track the information in district databases. Eight school districts applying for Federal Impact Aid from the Department of Education work with JBLM, but there is no way to ensure all military families are accounted for in those districts.

“It is important for the command to know the number of students in a district,” Martinez-Melo said, “to understand changes and pressures students are undergoing and to provide services that meet their needs, not a ‘one-way fits all’ mentality. Public schools should responsive. Any child undergoing a life change — parents divorce and one child isn’t seeing the other parent for example — could benefit from services that build their confidence or resilience.”

The survey asks specific information about military, civilian or contract employees with Kindergarten to 12th-grade students. The School Support Services office will compile the numbers and begin conversations with those districts and schools ensuring military students have options and don’t lose academic ground as they move into or out of Washington state schools.

“We are also hoping this information can give us a better indication of what is needed in those schools where military children are not the majority but may fall in between the systems,” Martinez-Melo said. “We want all our schools to be successful and we want parents to know the military recognizes that the need for academic progress is everyone’s priority.”