Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16623 Perceptions of Public School Principals: Assessing the Needs of Military and Non-Military Students In Schools

Sunday, January 15, 2012: 10:45 AM
McPherson Square (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Hazel Atuel, PhD, Research Assistant Professor & Program Manager for Building Capacity Consortium, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Keren Malchi, PhD, Researcher, Bar-Ilan University Ramat Gan, Israel, Israel
Monica C. Esqueda, PhD Student, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Rami Benbenishty, PhD, Professor, Bar Ilan University & Haruv Institute, Ramat Gan, Israel
Ron Avi Astor, PhD, Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background and Purpose: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to concerning psychological, behavioral, and academic outcomes for children in military families. Of the 1.2 million school-aged children of military service members, 90% attend civilian operated schools. Civilian teachers, principals, and school support personnel, however, have never been systematically trained to understand and appropriately respond to the need of children whose parents are deployed. The aim of the present study is to examine the perceptions and needs of public school principals that have students from military and non-military families.

Methods: This study was carried out in 138 schools in eight districts surrounding military bases in San Diego and Riverside counties. The sample consists of 137 school representatives, mostly principals (90%), from 130 schools. Data were collected via an online-survey sent to school principals. The survey included questions about the school's enrollment of military students, educational philosophy regarding military students and military-related programs at schools, parental and community involvement in schools, activities focused on military students, school improvement programs and their target populations, identifying best practices, and perceptions of needs for school resources and training.

Results: Findings indicate that many school representatives did not know how many of their students were from military families. The most common educational approach is to include military-connected students in more general programs that target other students (44.5%); however, 30% of school representatives thought military-connected students need special programs and activities due to their unique needs and circumstances. The majority of schools implement programs that target the student body as a whole (e.g., school safety, after-school programs, socio-emotional learning programs, substance abuse prevention), with only 10 schools implementing programs and activities focusing on military-connected students. Although most of the school representatives reported a need for more personnel, pupil personnel, social work interns, and administrative supports in general, they simultaneously identified a need for additional training in dealing with military students and families, learning about practices and evidence-based programs that improve school climate in general, and learning about ceremonies that focus on military students and families in particular.

Conclusions and Implications: Overall findings demonstrate a tension between current practices regarding military-connected students and families and the growing awareness of this population's needs. Findings demonstrate a need for developing systemic methods for evaluating the number of military-connected students in each school, their needs and evidence-based programs most relevant to this group. Continued training and education on the circumstances and needs of military students and families is required. This support should be tailored to fit the unique educational philosophy of each school, and the number and characteristics of military-connected students in each school.

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