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Operation Educate the Educators helps schools support military-connected students

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 21 2012 5:30 p.m. MST

When Lynnzie Leavitt's dad deployed from Camp Williams, Utah, to Afghanistan, she organized a high school event to send care packages to men in his unit. She says one teacher had heard about troops coming home from Iraq and told her, "Don’t you know? All the soldiers are coming home now. Why would we send packages to them?" Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Leavitt had been gone for two weeks and did not get back until a year later, the day after his daughter's junior prom.

Leavitt says she thinks teachers want to understand their military-connected students, but most lack experience with and training about military life. Meanwhile, students like Leavitt "are spending every day thinking about what's going on over there."

Disrupting patterns

Leavitt's father came home when she was 17. "I sometimes think that's the hardest part of the deployment," she says. While a parent is away, "you kind of have to forget where they are and what they're doing. When they come home, you have to face it." Parents sometimes come back with post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, or anxiety. Meanwhile, says Leavitt, "we don't necessarily have the same support that we did during deployments."

"The kids develop patterns of existing without their parent" during deployment, says Ryan Williams, an LDS chaplain at Camp Pendleton. When a parent returns, "it can disrupt their whole pattern, their whole routine and schedule."

Building supportive schools

That is why the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the Military Child Education Coalition have partnered with Joining Forces to create Operation Educate the Educators, partnering with teacher education programs to prepare teachers and principals to meet the needs of military-connected children. More than 100 college education programs have already joined the effort.

Even an hour or two of teacher training on military life and its challenges makes a difference, says Kelly Barnes, a civilian contractor with the National Guard. Barnes runs youth programs in the state of Utah, working with military-connected children to build their resilience and prepare them for the many transitions they will experience during deployment and reunion.

In addition to leadership training for youths, his program reaches about 60 teachers per year with seminars on military life and the pride and stresses their military-connected students experience. Barnes hopes Operation Educate the Educators will extend the reach of teacher training programs like his.

According to the website, Operation Educate the Educators hopes to reach at least 10,000 teachers, student teachers and principals through partnerships with colleges of education and local k-12 schools. The program will provide guidebooks and seminars on the needs of military-connected students and will work with schools to develop school communities that support these kids.

Across the country, in Kentucky, Maxwell agrees the need is great: "Every day someone retires there's a new private that comes in with a family (in need of support.)" He looks forward to the day all school communities are as supportive as Hillcrest Baptist Church.

Gretchen Krebs has taught general and special education in New York and Utah. She is passionate about finding innovative approaches to meet the needs of all students. Contact her at gkrebs@deseretnews.com

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