An interview with Professor Robert Blum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Q: Does deployment have an impact on kids in the school setting?
Blum: It can have a tremendous impact and it can depend on the type of school setting. A child who has a parent in the Reserves, for example, may be in a school where there are no other children whose parents are deployed. That child may feel extremely isolated. We often don’t ask if children have parents who are deployed, so at times schools don’t even know about it until a problem arises.
Other kids are in Military Impacted Schools, where there are large numbers of children who have parents who are deployed. Those children also face challenges associated with deployment.
Q: What can schools do to support kids who have parents who are deployed?
Blum: The kinds of things schools can to do include:
- Ask kids if they have parents who are deployed, particularly deployed in combat zones in Afghanistan or Iraq.
- Be very sensitive to timing issues, such as when a parent may be home on furlough, or when a child may be particularly distressed under other circumstances.
- Reach out to the residual parent [the parent who is not deployed] and see what he or she sees as needed for their child in the school.
- Be sensitive to how current events are taught. Most of us discuss current events, such as the war Afghanistan and Iraq, as relative abstractions. But children talk and think about it in terms of their father or their mother. It is at a very different personal level. This isn’t to say we don’t discuss it, but it is to say we need to be sensitive to those kinds of issues.
Q: What are some challenges military kids face when transferring to a new school?
Blum: There are a range of issues.
- Military families and military children are amongst the most transient of populations. It is not uncommon to see kids who have grown up in military families who have been in 5, 7 or 9 different schools by the end of their high school career. There is very high mobility. With high mobility come issues of engagement, disengagement and reengagement. These are stressful for kids.
- Transfer of records from one school to another has historically been very complicated. Delays in transfer of records, which often can take weeks or months, can be problematic and can result in students being placed in inappropriate classes, for example.
- Coming into a school at a time of the year when most people don’t come into schools – at the middle of a term, for example – is also very challenging for kids.
- State graduation requirements, such as "you can’t graduate unless you take fill-in-the-blank course," can preclude a student who enters the school in the middle of their senior year from graduating.
- Joining extracurricular and sports programs can be another challenge. In a previous school, a student may have been a gifted athlete, but in the new school he or she may not have those opportunities.
So I would suggest that schools need to be attentive to all of these complications that military children face.
Robert W. Blum MD, MPH, Ph.D., is the William H. Gates, Sr., Professor and Chair of the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.