Building on the report I co-authored with Don Soifer, Getting School Districts Ready for the Military Student Identifier, senior officials from Virginia Beach City Public Schools and the Commanders of Naval Air Station Oceana and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek–Fort Story – two local military installations in Virginia Beach – recently gathered to discuss how they are working to ensure the academic and social-emotional needs of military-connected students are being met through strong relationships, excellent programs, and focused resources that have persisted through a number of leadership changes.
Military-connected students are at greater risk of experiencing an uneven and inconsistent education due to different standards, graduation requirements, and expectations. Although military-connected students are resilient and adaptable, the difficulties caused by transitions and deployments make effective and timely social-emotional support critical.
The Virginia Beach community has one of the highest concentrations of military service members and families in the country. At Shelton Park Elementary, the school that hosted this important discussion, three out of four students are military-connected. Of Virginia Beach’s military-connected students, half are highly mobile, meaning they are moving into or out of schools within one to two years.
The stakes are high for all involved: obviously for the students, who have a 50% chance of moving to a new school in the current school year; for the military families, who are struggling to adjust to a new community; for the service members themselves, who look at the quality of their child’s education as a key determining factor on whether they re-up their commitment to the military; for the district itself, which has a responsibility to provide an effective educational experience to all students – especially those with unique needs.
Our report identifies a number of essential practices for meeting the needs of military-connected students. Virginia Beach City Public Schools, one of the districts we highlighted, provides an excellent example of effective and innovative approaches to serving military-connected students. Other communities, districts, educators, and bases across the country can learn from Virginia Beach – and possibly emulate those practices in their own way.
What Virginia Beach does well, along with other districts highlighted in the report, fit into three broad categories:
- Specific support for students, especially social-emotional support, utilizing district and military resources.
- Aligned instructional leadership, with teachers receiving focused training on the needs of military-connected students and having access to data on individual student progress.
- Systems and communities, with the district reaching beyond the walls of the classroom to local military bases to build support for students.
While other districts serving military-connected students have their own unique situations, there are a number of successful programs underway at Virginia Beach and in a number of districts across the county that should be closely examined for how well they are meeting the needs of military-connected students and their families.
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