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Michelle Obama, Jill Biden launch initiative for military kids

WASHINGTON — Madeline Stevens knows what it is like to be a military brat.

‘‘The first week of school, it’s really hard,’’ said Stevens, a 17-year-old from Jacksonville, Fla., who has moved eight times with her naval aviator father and attended 10 different schools. ‘‘You sit by yourself at lunch; you try and make friends in classes. When you’re younger it’s easier because, you know, you just share crayons, and you’re new best friends.’’

But in high school, Stevens has had to integrate herself into sports and clubs to make friends, many of whom already have known each other most of their lives. The shuffle also has been a strain academically.


Moving can be tough for a child, but can be harder for children of military families, who, like Stevens, relocate more frequently. They must leave friends and get acclimated to schools that may have a different curriculum. And the emotional impact of having a deployed parent can include worry and anxiety, said Mary Ann Rafoth, dean of Robert Morris University’s School of Education and Social Sciences.

‘‘Most of us go through each day not realizing that we’re a nation at war. But those kids do,’’ she said.

An initiative launched Wednesday by Michelle Obama and the vice president’s wife, Jill Biden, is designed to prepare educators. ‘‘Operation: Educate the Educator’’ has a commitment from more than 100 colleges offering teaching degrees. The Obama administration partnered with the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the Military Child Education Coalition to help military children.

The colleges that have signed on have agreed to incorporate information about military children in the training curriculums for student teachers, push teachers to do research on military children, and require student teachers to work with military children as part of their final clinical experience or internship.


The guidelines also encourage the colleges to work with admissions offices to identify military children, offer workshops and seminars to faculty and student teachers, and partner with K-12 schools for joint development programs.

There are nearly 2 million students whose parents are on active duty, members of the National Guard or Reserves, or veterans, according to the Military Child Education Coalition. Students often move six to nine times during their preschool through high school education. More than 80 percent of the 1.1 million-plus K-12 students attend public schools.

Biden said she was moved by a story of a little girl who burst into tears when ‘‘Ave Maria’’ played at her school’s Christmas program because the song was played at the funeral of her father, who died in Iraq.

‘‘It was so shocking to me that that teacher really was unaware that this girl had a daddy who was in the military,’’ she said. ‘‘We have to make sure that we can identify the military children and that we can do things to celebrate military families.’’

Biden said it was inevitable that the education of military children would become part of Joining Forces, the initiative she launched with Mrs. Obama in 2011 to support military families. The campaign also has helped formerly deployed soldiers seek employment stateside and has aided spouses.

‘‘We say, when you have a family member who is in the military service, the families serve too,’’ she said.

‘‘Think of the pressures on the families, and so they’re all in this together.’’