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

16633 Examining the Challenges of Military Students: The Viewpoints of Educators Who Work with Military-Connected Schools

Friday, January 13, 2012: 10:30 AM
Independence E (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Kris M. Tunac De Pedro, PhD Student, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Tiffany Young, MSW Candidate, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Monica C. Esqueda, PhD Student, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Julie Cederbaum, MSW, MPH, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Ron Avi Astor, PhD, Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background and Purpose: The current deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in major stressors for the almost 1.3 million military children currently enrolled in civilian schools. These include the stress of left-behind parents (Chandra, Lara-Cinisomo, Jaycox, Tanielan, Burns, Ruder, & Han, 2010; Flake, Davis, Johnson, & Middleton, 2009), the shifting of household responsibilities (Mmari, Roche, Sudhinaraset, & Blum, 2009), and geographic relocation (Chandra et al., 2010). These stressors have led to concerning psychological and academic outcomes for military children (Engel, Gallagher, & Lyle, 2008; Mmari et al., 2009). Research has found that supportive public schools help buffer children against external factors such as family stress and community violence (Astor, Benbenishty, & Estrada, 2009; Comer, 1996; Garbarino, 1995). However, no study has examined how military-connected schools have responded to the needs of military children. From the perspectives of educators who work with military-connected school districts in the Building Capacity consortium, this qualitative study examined the school challenges facing military students and how their schools have responded.

Methods: A secondary qualitative data analysis was conducted. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were originally conducted with 32 respondents who work with military-connected schools and students in the Building Capacity consortium. A thematic analysis approach was utilized, including the creation of a code list, a systematic coding process in Atlas.ti, and the generation of themes. Results: Four themes were generated: awareness, multiple moves, lack of responsiveness and needing resources. First, participants reported awareness of the challenges and strengths of military children, including the stress of parental separation, unstable households, and resilience. Second, most participants reported that multiple moves were a major stressor facing military students. They reported that military students fall behind academically as a result of moving between schools in different states since they are subjected to different academic standards and repeated social adjustment (i.e. sense of belonging, making new friends, and acclimating to the school community). Third, participants reported a lack of responsiveness to the social and academic needs of military children among military-connected school staff. For example, respondents reported that schools lacked a basic process for identifying military students. Fourth, participants reported that their schools need resources (i.e. training) to provide programs and interventions for military children and families.

Conclusions and Implications: Overall, the findings suggest that there is awareness among military-connected school educators of the needs of military students; however, military-connected schools have not adequately responded to the social and academic needs of military students and may not be equipped with the knowledge and resources to address this issue. Education policy and school programs that address the needs of military-connected schools and students have recently become a national funding and school reform priority. Hence, more studies on military-connected schools and effective strategies are necessary for developing future school-based programs and supportive school environments for military students.