by Ross Brenneman

In order to draw attention to the difficulties children in military and veteran families face in schools, Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, highlighted Operation Educate the Educators, a federal initiative, during a discussion last Monday at the annual conference for the American Educational Research Association. The goal of the session was to raise awareness in university schools of education about military and veteran children in public schools and to recruit more universities to join a national effort.

Biden’s AERA session was orchestrated between AERA and the White House by Ron Avi Astor, the Lenore Stein-Wood and William S. Wood Professor of School Behavioral Health at the USC School of Social Work, who holds a joint appointment at the USC Rossier School of Education.

Speaking before more than 3,000 educational researchers and professors, Biden praised institutions around the country like USC that had stepped up their efforts to include veteran and military students in their research, diversity programs, and provide preservice training to educators to accommodate and support military-connected children.

“All military kids should be recognized and appreciated,” Biden said.

Operation Educate the Educators, part of the White House’s Joining Forces initiative, with the help of Astor’s Building Capacity and Welcoming Schools projects, and in partnership with the Military Child Educational Coalition has enlisted support from more than 100 colleges and universities to develop training for students in teacher education programs that will ready them to support military families. The goal is to have at least 10,000 preservice and graduate-level professionals receive training in how to engage military-connected children.  OEE also strives to have university professors integrate military and veteran students as a diversity group in all their research and programs.

In a question-and-answer session held after Biden’s remarks, Astor said it behooves all areas of the country to improve their understanding of local military and veteran populations.

“Even though LA Unified or Chicago may not see itself as a military town like San Diego or Fort Riley, they’re aware that there’s a migration of post 9-11 veterans to the major cities. Once those teachers become aware, the social system could actually be really supportive,” Astor said. He noted, for instance, that many schools don’t observe Veterans Day, but could start to do so.

According to Military Child Educational Coalition and the Welcoming Schools project, there are more than 4 million children in the United States with some connection to the military or that have parents who served post 9-11. More than 80 percent of these students have or will attend public schools.

Biden said that such children will move, on average, six to nine times during their childhoods. Research shows that such mobility, and the emotional effects connected to it, can cause learning difficulties for those students, including lower academic achievement. They are also at a higher risk for severe emotional problems, including suicide, according to research from the USC School of Social Work.

Biden also implored attendees not to overlook the National Guard, either.

“The National Guard is not on bases. They’re in the communities. A lot of times teachers don’t know that,” Biden said. She noted that she loves to see all students connected to the military, as well as veterans, identified in schools. “They have so much to add to the conversation.”

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