A School Principal in California Focuses on Military Kids


The following report relating to the conception, design and execution of a special program for military family students attending the Susan La Vorgna Elementary School in Winchester, California  was prepared by Jona A. Hazlett, Principal of the school for the benefit of other school principals interesting in supporting similarly situated children withing their schools.

Any questions regarding the article may be forwarded to Russ Hopkins, National Military Family Association – Illinois at ndbluestarplatoon@aol.com or by calling 847 971 1551

Schools are the perfect place for military kids to get connected.

Schools are the perfect place for military kids to get connected.

SUPPORTING OUR MILITARY KIDS IN OUR SCHOOLS

by Jona A. Hazlett

PRINCIPALS ARE EXPECTED TO BE AWARE OF AND MONITOR THE PROGRESS OF MANY SIGNIFICANT STUDENT POPULATIONS. THE USUAL MAJOR SUBGROUPS INCLUDE, ENGLISH LEARNERS, GIFTED AND TALENTED STUDENTS, THOSE WHO ARE ACADEMICALLY AT RISK, AND THE SOCIALLY DISADVANTAGED. SIX YEARS AGO, I  RECOGNIZED ANOTHER SIGNIFICANT SUBGROUP AT MY SCHOOL, STUDENTS FROM MILITARY FAMILIES.

TEMECULA VALLEY IS LOCATED HALF WAY BETWEEN LOS ANGELES AND SAN DIEGO. BECAUSE OF THE AFFORD ABLE COST OF LIVING IN THIS VALLEY, MANY MILITARY FAMILIES CHOOSE TO PURCHASE HOMES HERE, EVEN THOUGH IT IS APPROXIMATELY ONE HOUR FROM THE NEAREST MILITARY BASE. THERE WERE A GROWING NUMBER OF MILITARY FAMILIES MOVING TO TEMECULA, AND SPECIFICALLY, STUDENTS ENROLLING IN MY SCHOOL.

THERE ARE TWO REASONS THAT I CHOSE TO FOCUS ON THIS GROUP OF INDIVIDUALS. MILITARY BASES HAVE COMPREHENSIVE SUPPORT SYSTEMS FOR FAMILIES WHO LIVE ON BASE, BUT MY MILITARY FAMILIES WERE SCATTERED THROUGHOUT CIVILIAN NEIGHBORHOODS. IN ADDITION,AS I DEALT WITH STUDENTS WITH DISCIPLINE AND/OR ACADEMIC ISSUES, I FOUND THAT MANY OF THEM HAD A DEPLOYED PARENT IN THE MILITARY. I DECIDED TO DEVELOP A MILITARY FAMILY SUPPORT NETWORK AT THE SCHOOL SITE.

IN ADDITION TO THOSE STUDENTS WITH A PARENT AFFILIATED WITH THE MAJOR BASE NOTED, THERE ARE OTHER CHILDREN,,PARTICULARLY THOSE FROM RESERVE OR NATIONAL GUARD FAMILIES, WHO ARE EVEN MORE DETACHED FROM A SOLID BASE OF SUPPORT AND FIND THEMSELVES EVEN MORE ISOLATED FROM THOSE WHO SHARE A COMMON BOND.

THE GOALS OF THE PROGRAM ARE:
* TO PROVIDE A LOCAL SUPPORT NETWORK THAT RESEMBLES THOSE ON MILITARY BASES
* TO ASSIST LOCAL MILITARY FAMILIES IN FINDING SERVICES/RESOURCES
* TO PREPARE FOR STUDENT/FAMILY NEEDS WHEN A PARENT IS DEPLOYED
* TO ASSIST STAFF IN UNDERSTANDING/DEALING WITH ISSUES FACING MILITARY STUDENTS

THE PROGRAM COMPONENTS INCLUDE;
* A SURVEY OF MILITARY FAMILIES (INFORMATION AND NEEDS)
* A NETWORKING DIRECTORY OF MILITARY FAMILIES WITH STUDENTS IN OUR SCHOOL
* A MONTHLY LUNCH FOR MILITARY FAMILY STUDENTS WITH THE PRINCIPAL
* PROFESSIONAL GUEST SPEAKERS
* RECREATIONAL EVENTS AND TRIPS
* STAFF DEVELOPMENT FOR TEACHERS
* REGULAR EVALUATION OF PROGRAM SUCCESS

I STARTED BY IDENTIFYING THE COMMON PROBLEMS FACING MILITARY FAMILIES. FOR THE CHILDREN AT SCHOOL;
* DISCIPLINE ISSUES
* FREQUENT MOVES LEADING TO:
DIFFICULTY MAKING FRIENDS
CATCHING UP WITH SCHOOL WORK
ADJUSTMENT ISSUES
* FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN

FOR THE DEPLOYED PARENT:
*MISSING OUT ON MILESTONE EVENTS
*PERCEIVED LOSS OF PARENTING POWER
*LONELINESS

FOR THE PARENTS AT HOME;

*”SINGLE PARENTING’ ISSUES
* DISCIPLINING
* FINANCIAL IMPLICATIONS
*LONELINESS

*DISTANCE FROM RESOURCES
* MEDICAL FACILITIES
*COMMISSARY
*OTHER MILITARY FAMILIES
*SUPPORT GROUPS

FOR THE TEACHER;
* UNDERSTANDING THE STUDENT FROM A MILITARY FAMILY
* PREPARING FOR DEPLOYMENT ISSUES
* DEALING WITH DISCIPLINE ISSUES
* DEALING WITH EMOTIONAL ISSUES

IT SHOULD BE MENTIONED THAT DIFFICULTIES ASSOCIATED WITH MILITARY SERVICE THAT IMPACT FAMILIES AND STUDENTS ARE NOT STRICTLY RELATED TO THE SERVICE MEMBER BEING DEPLOYED. MANY STRESS FACTORS OCCUR PRIOR TO A DEPLOYMENT AND ESPECIALLY AFTERWARDS AS A RESULT OF PHYSICAL, MENTAL, AND EMOTIONAL INJURIES INCURRED.

AFTER IDENTIFYING THESE KEY ISSUES, I INITIATED A PLAN FOR ADDRESSING THEM. AFTER SURVEYING THE STUDENTS AT REGISTRATION, TO IDENTIFY MY MILITARY FAMILIES, I HAD THE OFFICE STAFF “TAG”  THE STUDENTS WITH AN “M” IN THE DISTRICT DATABASE. I PUT TOGETHER A DIRECTORY FOR THE FAMILIES, WITH ALL OF THEIR PERSONAL INFORMATION.(THE DIRECTORY INFORMATION WAS VOLUNTARY AND WAS ONLY DISTRIBUTED TO THE MILITARY FAMILIES WHO WANTED TO PARTICIPATE.i WAS SURPRISED TO SEE HOW BENEFICIAL THIS REALLY WAS, AS PARENTS “FOUND” AND CONNECTED WITH EACH OTHER, EVEN ESTABLISHING CARPOOLS FOR GETTING TO WORK.

ONE OF MY TEACHERS HAS A HUSBAND IN THE ARMED FORCES, AND SHE WAS ABLE TO PULL TOGETHER RESOURCES FROM CAMP PENDELTON, AND WE HELD OUR FIRST MILITARY FAMILY FAIR. IT WAS HELD AT NIGN, ON CAMPUS, AND REPRESENTATIVES SET UP BOOTHS FOR FAMILIES TO VISIT. EVERYTHING FROM MEDICAL INSURANCE, TO COUNSELING SERVICE, TO THE RED CROSS, ETC.

THOUGH ALL OF THESE THINGS HAVE BEEN HELPFUL, THE EASIEST AND MOST EFFECTIVE ACTIVITY HAS BEEN THE MONTHLY MILITARY FAMILY STUDENT LUNCHES. WE TURNED A SPARE CLASSROOM INTO A MILITARY SUPPORT ROOM, DECORATED WITH DONATED MILITARY PARAPHERNALIA AND PLENTY OF POSTER PAPER AND PAINT.THE STUDENTS ARE INVITED TO LUNCH EACH MONTH, DURING THEIR REGULAR LUNCH TIME TO EAT WITH THE PRINCIPAL AND SOMETIMES OTHER GUESTS INCLUDING THE SUPERINTENDENT  AND “ABRAHAM LINCOLN.”

WHEN THE STUDENTS FIRST CAME, THEY WENT AROUND THE ROOM AND TOLD THE GROUP WHO WAS IN THE MILITARY AND WHAT BRANCH THEY WERE IN. WHAT FUN TO WATCH THE KIDS SAY,”HEY, MY DAD IS IN THE NAVY TOO!” THIS HELPED THE CHILDREN TO SEE THAT THEY WERE NOT THE ONLY ONES, AND THEY BEGAN TO MAKE CONNECTIONS WITH STUDENTS AT THEIR GRADE LEVEL, AT RECESS AND LUNCH.

EACH MONTH, WHEN WE HAVE THE ORGANIZED LUNCHEONS, THE STUDENTS HAVE THEIR OWN DISCUSSIONS. THEY TALK ABOUT PARENTS COMING BACK OR SHIPPING OUT. THEY CONSOLE EACH OTHER, OR OFFER EACH OTHER ADVICE. THEY CAN MAKE BANNERS FOR PARENTS WHO ARE COMING HOME, WRITE LETTERS, OR CONSTRUCT CARE PACKAGERS WHILE THEY ARE THERE. THE MAIN THING IS THAT THIS GROUP OF STUDENTS FEELS SPECIAL. YOU’D BE SURPRISED AT HOW MANY STUDENTS TRY TO SNEAK INTO THE GROUP BY PRETENDING THAT THEY ARE FROM A MILITARY FAMILY.

WE ALSO TO SCHOOL WIDE EVENTS SUCH AS MATCHBOX CAR/BEANIE BABY DRIVES TO SEND TO THE SOLDIERS TO DISTRIBUTE TO IRAQI CHILDREN. WHEN WE SEND CARE PACKAGE, WE MAKE SURE THEY GO TO THE UNITS THAT OUR STUDENT’S PARENTS OR OTHER RELATIVES BELONG TO. THROUGHOUT THE YEAR, WE INVITED MILITARY PARENTS TO COME TO OUR FRIDAY FLAG SALUTE IN UNIFORM. THEY SOMETIMES BRING A FLAG THAT FLEW ON THEIR SHIP, OR TALK ABOUT HOW MUCH THEY LOVED THE CARE PACKAGES AND LETTERS. WE ALLOW THE CHILD OF THE PARENT TO STAND BY THEM, TO BEAM WITH PRIDE.

AT OUR SCHOOL, WE HAVE EMBRACED THIS GROUP OF STUDENTS AND THEIR FAMILIES. WHILE THERE IS SO MUCH WE CAN DO, IT IS OFTEN DIFFICULT TO FIND THE TIME AND MONEY. I HOPE THAT THIS NETWORK CAN GROW, NOT ONLY AT OUR SCHOOL, BUT ACROSS THE NATION AT ALL OF OUR SCHOOLS.

 ******
Mother Goose has many great ideas for how to get the military kids together in your school.  This program implemented by Principal Hazlett has proven very effective for improving communication among military families in their community.  The students with deployed parents are now receiving support and enjoying a great camaraderie.
How are military kids in your school identified and then gathered together?  Mother Goose will be busy following up on the situation at this school and others across the nation.  Watch for me to fly over a school near you and stay tuned as Mother Goose Salutes Military Kids in our Schools…
Winging my way over Tantallon Castle in Scotland.

Winging my way over Tantallon Castle in Scotland.

 

(Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail.)

 

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2 thoughts on “A School Principal in California Focuses on Military Kids

  1. How nice to read a story where a school administrator is sensitive and aware of the special pressures that come with being a child of a military parent(s). I hope other teachers and administrators are listening.

    • Debra, I hope they are listening as well. Teachers and principals are very busy people with many priorities on their chalkboards. I have contacted my own daughter’s principal to see if she’d be interested in hearing some of my ideas for identifying and then gathering these kids together for fun and support and honor. Preening my winter feathers as I wait for her to return my call…

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