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New books guide schools in support of military families

A "hero wall" placed in one of the schools participating in the Building Capacity in Military-Connected Schools project (Photo/Courtesy of USC School of Social Work)

The Building Capacity in Military-Connected Schools project, a partnership between the USC School of Social Work and eight San Diego area public school districts, has released four guidebooks to help parents, teachers, counselors and principals understand the educational challenges facing military children and create schools that recognize and respect the culture of military families.

“A lot of public schools don’t see the military families as a culture,” said Ron Avi Astor, professor at the School of Social Work and the USC Rossier School of Education and principal investigator on the Building Capacity project. “The books allow educators and social workers to understand these children as a cultural diversity group and open the discussion about how this can be addressed in schools.”

In addition, the purpose of the books is to fill a gap in educational and training programs that will equip parents and school personnel with skills to support these children, who sometimes feel out of place in the classroom because they have different life experiences from their civilian counterparts.

The guides feature the best examples in the field for how schools can recognize the contributions that military children and families bring to school communities and also support them in times of stress.

The Military Family’s Parent Guide for Supporting Your Child in School helps parents support their children through school changes, deployments, reintegration periods and other transitions. The guide suggests how to choose a welcoming school and how to advocate for children, as well as the types of questions parents should ask to find out how their children are faring socially, emotionally and academically.

The Teacher’s Guide for Supporting Students From Military Families prepares teachers to recognize the challenges facing military children in public school — frequent transitions between schools, gaps in academic progress, social adjustment, parental deployments, and trauma or tragedy — and equips them with the skills to support these often overlooked students.

The Pupil Personnel Guide for Supporting Students From Military Families offers school counselors, psychologists and social workers a resource on how to understand and support the educational challenges facing military children. The resource includes a primer on military culture and examples of creative and effective projects designed to celebrate military children and support them through school changes, parental deployments or traumatic experiences.

The School Administrator’s Guide for Supporting Students From Military Families provides principals insight on the impact that frequent transitions and parental deployments can have on the education of military children, the role educational policy can play in improving circumstances and case studies on creating supportive schools.

By writing separate guides for each audience, the Building Capacity team, which includes co-principal investigators Marleen Wong, clinical professor and associate dean of field education at the School of Social Work, and Rami Benbenishty, professor of social work at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, put itself in the shoes of the different people to use the right voice, angle and terminology for each group.

How teachers work with students, how parents talk to their children, how school social workers talk to students and how principals work with their staffs are all require specific direction.

The books have been widely endorsed by leading education experts and professional organizations, including the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education; William Tierney, University Professor and president of the American Educational Research Association; the U.S. Navy Region Southwest School Liaison Officers program; the National Military Family Association; and Paula Allen-Meares, chancellor of the University of Illinois at Chicago and a leading national school social worker.

“There aren’t many vetted resources available to universities and public school districts on this topic,” Astor said.

“Some of this work hasn’t been readily available to practitioners,” he added. “By pulling together policy, experiences from the field and our research analyses, we can now look at the whole picture. The books present best practices.”

The guides are the product of the Building Capacity project, a four-year, $7.6 million effort funded by the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity.

In partnership with eight school districts near the U.S. Marine Corps base Camp Pendleton in Southern California, the project, which encompasses approximately 117,000 students, 10 percent of whom are military, focuses on improving the climate of civilian schools to be more welcoming of military children and parents and supportive during the frequent transitions these families face.

The project also trains Master of Social Work students to serve as interns in military-connected schools.

All royalties from the sale of the books will be donated to the educational causes of military children.

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