Everyone Needs to Celebrate and Support Our Military Children
By Meghan Ables, 2016 Arkansas Teacher of the Year
Dontrell Brown, a graduate of Stuttgart High School, has only known one way of life in his 21 years – the life of a military child. Dontrell’s father, Donnie Brown Sr., served in the Army National Guard for 22 years. Dontrell recalls growing up watching other children with their dads and feeling that a piece of him was missing. The waves of emotion throughout the years are still fresh on his mind as he recalls being worried he may never see his dad again, feeling jealous of his friends who got to hug their dad every day, feeling extreme pride for what his father was doing, and being angry that no one really understood how he felt.
The safe haven of his school helped Dontrell through the tough times. Fortunately, the routine of the school day, along with the love of his teachers and peers, helped him cope with his father being gone overseas. Having support and love from his coaches and teammates also helped him stay focused. His emotions would quickly change, however, after a victory on the football field. When he looked to the sidelines and saw his fellow brothers run and gave their dads a high five or a hug, Dontrell’s excitement would turn to loneliness.
Dontrell says that no one can fully understand the unique life of a military child unless he or she lives it. “I wish people understood the lonely side of being a military kid,” he said. “The days, months or years that they’re gone to drill or off to war are the hardest for a young child. My dad was my idol, and not having him home or around was upsetting. The biggest scare was not knowing if he was going to come home.” Dontrell said he knows it was even harder on his older brother, who was expected to be the “man of the house” while his father was away. “He just did what he had to do while dad was gone,” Dontrell said. “I know it was hard on him.”
One classroom memory stands out more than any other for Dontrell. Prior to Dontrell’s father leaving for Iraq, Dontrell’s teacher invited his dad to be a guest speaker for the class. His dad, along with a teacher at the school who also was being deployed, spoke to students about what it meant to serve in the military. Seeing his dad stand in uniform in the front of his class is an image Dontrell cherishes. That powerful moment allowed his classmates to see and know the hero that he loved so much. Dontrell believes that teachers do have the power to help military children cope with their ever-changing life.
What Military Parents Want Teachers to Know
Parents want teachers to know that their child is constantly working through emotional highs and lows. The entire routine at home is altered, and one parent is becoming a single parent for the time being. Sometimes both parents are gone, and a military child lives with a grandparent. The life these children once knew no longer exists once a parent is deployed overseas. One military mom said, “I just need teachers to know that school work or reading 20 minutes a day may not happen every day or ideally.” It takes time to adjust once the family dynamic changes.
These children are constantly thinking about two things: when they will talk to their parent again and if they will see their mom or dad again. Having compassionate teachers is vitally important to these children. Parents want teachers to communicate with the parent who is serving in the military, whether by email or social media class pages. Sharing their child’s successes, such as videos of their child reading or a picture of them holding their test with an “A” on it, are important. There are numerous ways to include the military parent even though he or she may be thousands of miles away.
What Teachers Need in Order to Support Military Children in the Classroom
Teachers need parents to be open and honest about what is happening at home. Any change in routine at home or news about the military parent is important for the teacher. If the military child is experiencing changes in behavior, the teacher should know so he or she can make adjustments in the classroom. If the military parent is coming home for a couple of weeks, let the teacher know so the class can celebrate too.
Many teachers welcome the idea of sending classroom care packages and cards to the deployed parent or posting pictures on a “hero wall” in the classroom. It may be possible to include the deployed parent in parent/teacher conferences via video conferencing. Students also may go on a virtual field trip with a parent who is overseas. The opportunities are endless!
Facts about Arkansas’ Military Children (Data from Military OneSource)
- There are 15,199 military children in Arkansas.
- In Pulaski County, there are more than 4,000 military children, with 1,898 children on Air Force active duty.
- Lonoke County has 2,608 military children, with 1,674 on Air Force active duty.
- Benton County has 782 military children – 351 with parents in the Army National Guard.
- The following counties have at least 400 military children: Washington, White, Sebastian, Saline, Benton, Crawford, Lonoke, Pulaski and Faulkner.
Lessons Specially Made for the Military Child
The following are good resources for teachers who have military children in their classrooms.
- http://www.operationwearehere.com/MilitaryEducationalResourcesforKids.html (scroll to bottom)
April is Month of the Military Child
Everyone can celebrate Month of the Military Child! Below are some ideas.
- Write letters to military children, and share your favorite memory of their parent. Tell them you are proud of them for being brave.
- Share relevant pictures on social media.
- Send goody bags or gifts, such as a key chain, T-shirt, or baseball cap with the military logo on it. Let the military child know you are thinking of them.
- Make donations or send packages in their parent’s honor.
- Give gift cards to restaurants so they can have family time.
- Save newspaper clippings of their military parent, laminate them, and give them to the military child.
- Frame a picture of the family and give it to them.
- Take the military child for ice cream or lunch.
- Let the family know you are there for support.
- Volunteer to fill in on “dad’s night” or “mom’s night” at the child’s school.
Additional Resources for Teachers