Engaging youth to care about military families

“I look up in the sky and see a plane, a plane zooming through the clouds/I wonder if that’s the one, if that’s his plane/I hope and pray with all my life that it is his plane…All I can think about is that plane landing…Finally, finally I get to see him after the longest 15 months of my life/I felt like this day would never come, but it did just in time.”

The excerpt from the poem above is entitled “The Perfect Day,” written by Anna Johnson about the day her father returned from his third-and longest-deployment. When you read a poem like this, you get a sense of the unique challenges military-connected teens face in the course of everyday life. While some military kids say they are most worried about frequent moves and having a parent deployed, the fear of eating lunch alone in a new school is terrifying to others. Think about leaving friends behind, having to try out for teams with each move and having to pack and unpack everything you own again and again.  Stressors like these are lessened when military kids feel they are connected to the community. Here’s where you can help!  Social connections make a world of difference in the life of a military child and opportunities to support military families are abundant.

In a recent study conducted by the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), the overwhelming majority of kids polled said some type of support group would be a good idea. Students expressed a belief that it was important for this type of support to be available to those who need it. They also liked the idea of less formal support groups that were organized around some type of fun activity like bowling or sports, but allowed them to be around other kids who were going through some of the same experiences. Programs like the MCEC Student 2 Student (S2S) for high school students and Junior Student 2 Student (JS2S) for middle school students are examples of student-centered and student-led programs designed to help military-connected kids make a smooth transition.

After intensive training, the students, both military-connected and civilian, emerge skilled in assisting the incoming transitioning student into their new school and community, as well as helping the departing student prepare for entry into the next school. Under the supervision of a teacher or school counselor, S2S or JS2S programs function much like a club or extracurricular activity within the school. Currently, S2S programs are located in more than 250 schools worldwide and JS2S programs are implemented in over 200 middle schools. As Barbara from Okaloosa writes, “S2S has made me a more caring person, one who can see and feel what others are experiencing. I have loved being a part of (S2S) and it is a large part of who I am. I know that if I do the right thing in S2S that other kids just like me will feel they have come home and they belong.”

Absent a formal program like the ones described above, there are many ways to reach out to the military families in your area. Consider having an orientation for incoming military-connected students before school begins, designate a place to come for lunch during the first weeks of school, introduce the new students to different clubs or sports offered at the school, get together as a group after school. If you are involved with civic organizations in the community, think about hosting a military family appreciation day featuring community leaders and resources. Living near a military installation provides many opportunities for volunteering as a tutor, a mentor, pet or babysitter.

The benefits of serving those who serve are many. When military families feel welcome and connected, the partnerships and friendships formed result in a stronger community, and that benefits everyone.

  • For more opportunities to engage military families, contact the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) at www.militarychild.org. Guest blog opportunities are available — join in our efforts to support military families!